BUFFALO — For six years, Patrick Kaleta’s heard calls and insults he’s merely a talentless agitator trying to thump bodies. The Sabres winger bristles at the scorn.
The 25-year-old’s earned a regular shift for several seasons. He scored 10 goals in 55 games two years ago, four of them winners. He kills penalties.
“I know a lot of people have said I’m just a mutt, a fourth-liner; I’m just going to go out and hit,” Kaleta said Monday inside the First Niagara Center after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s tilt against the New Jersey Devils. “I take that personally. I take that as a challenge. I love challenges and I love having people say that about me because it motivates me to do even more and be even better.”
He’s been at his best during the Sabres’ 5-1-1 run, playing 34:56 during the past two games, the first time he’s ever skated more than 17 minutes in consecutive contests.
Kaleta and Paul Gaustad, an offseason workout partner, have formed a strong penalty-killing duo, helping swing momentum and bumping up Kaleta’s minutes. He’s averaging 13:40 a night this season, about three minutes more than usual.
In the Sabres’ 6-0 trouncing of Boston on Wednesday, Kaleta scored a goal, fought and laid a game-high seven hits while getting under the Bruins’ and NBC analyst Mike Milbury’s skin.
“When I watch that Kaleta … start a fight with that big shield (visor) on, it makes me want to go to the men’s room,” Milbury said during the telecast.
What’s Kaleta’s response to those harsh words?
“It just drives me to do better,” he said. “I’m worried what my guys in here think of me. I’m perfectly fine going home and throwing together a Lego set, just hanging out with my buddies. … I don’t need tons of people to like me. If they don’t, it means I’m doing my job.”