1288506This was a tragic and bizarre week for the Buffalo Sabres who went 1-2 in games at home against the Ottawa Senators, the San Jose Sharks, and the Carolina Hurricanes. Wednesday night the Sabres put on an uninspired performance, playing incredibly soft in their own end, and deservedly losing to Ottawa. Then on Thursday night, Continental Flight 3407 crashed into a Clarence residents home, killing 50. Clarence, a suburb of Buffalo, is home to many Sabres players including defenceman Teppo Numminen, back up goalie Patrick Lalime, and head coach Lindy Ruff. In the face of tragedy, the Sabres had to gather their mettle and prepare for battle on Friday night. In one of the darkest times in Western New York history, the Sabres put on a show that allowed Buffalonians a brief distraction from the crash, as they defeated the Western Conference leading San Jose Sharks 6-5 in a shootout. It was an emotional game for fans and players alike. Unfortunately, that joyous performance was followed up with another lazy effort from the Sabres, as they were shut out in a loss against Carolina on Sunday.

SENATORS vs SABRES   2/11/09

With team leading scorer Thomas Vanek out a month with a fractured jaw, Lindy Ruff needed to make some moves to inspire his team offensively. At the time, Lindy was faced with some serious scoring droughts from players he needed to produce: Ales Kotalik (3 goals in 27 games), Jochen Hecht (3 goals in 27 games), Jason Pominville (0 goals in 16games), Clarke MacArthur (1 goal in 16 games), and Danielle Paille (3 goals in 39 games). As a result, Ruff shuffled the lines and benched Paille while calling up Nathan Gerbe from the Portland Pirates. The strategy was to generate more offensive opportunities against the Ottawa Senators.

His plan didn’t work as the Sabres fell 3-1 to their division rival.  

Jaroslav Spacek joylessly celebrated his 35th birthday as Ales Kotalik netted the Sabres lone goal of the game. It came on a 5 on 3 opportunity early in the 3rd period. Other than that, it was all Ottawa. Jason Spezza scored the first goal of the Senators Sabres Hockeygame, outworking Buffalo defenceman Tony Lydman, six minutes in on the power play. Ottawa nearly went up by two when Chris Kelly scored, but the goal was disallowed as an interference penalty was called on Jarkko Ruutu. It didn’t matter though as Shean Donovan got one in off the goal post to put his team up 2-0. Daniel Alfredsson ended the scoring for Ottawa about half way through the second period, making the score 3-0.

Thomas Vanek, the league leader in power play goals with 15, was severely missed in this game. The Sabres had 12 power play opportunities (the most by any team this season) but managed to score only once on 22 shots. Jason Smith of the Senators had a triple minor for roughing and a 10 minute misconduct for hitting Pat Kaleta from behind, yet his 16 minutes of box time wasn’t enough for the Sabres to take advantage. Lindy Ruff couldn’t have put it better in the post game press conference, “It’s a step back. You can’t be happy with that.”

The fans were definitely unhappy. The “Lets go Buffalo” chant couldn’t be heard until just over three minutes into the third period, and the Sabres were deservedly bombarded with boos as they made their way to the locker room. Ryan Miller looked shaky in net as he only faced 23 shots and let in 3 against the NHL’s third worst team. The Sabres put 32 shots on Ottawa goalie, Brian Elliot, who stopped 31. Rob Ray summed the Sabres play up nicely:

“They’ve been standing on the corner being pretty boys.” 

SHARKS vs SABRES   2/13/09

The Buffalo Sabres achieved their most emotional win in franchise history on Friday against the San Jose Sharks. Due to the crash of Continental Flight 3407, the NHL gave the Sabres organization an option of postponing the game to a later date. The Sabres graciously declined, deeming that the team could better serve their community by offering to take people’s minds off of Sharks Sabres Hockeythe crash, if even for only a handful of hours. The tragic event rightfully overshadowed Sabres captain, Craig Rivet’s first time squaring off against his former team since being traded to Buffalo in the off season. Rivet was vocal about the crash to the Buffalo media prior to the game:

“If we can come here tonight and just put in the work, do our best, and get that win. Hopefully it will take some discomfort off of the people involved. If we can do anything to help, we’re certainly going to try.”

Rivet indeed helped propel the Sabres to a 6-5 shootout victory over the Western Conference leading Sharks. Rivet logged the most ice time at 24:46 and had 3 assists on the night, the most important of which came with just seconds left in the game; He ripped a shot off from the point and Jason Pominville got his stick on it to tap it home with 3.9 seconds left on the clock, tying the game at 5-5. To quote Buffalo play-by-play guy, Rick Jeanneret, “Gloom and doom is now glee and joy!” The tying goal earned the Sabres a standing ovation who at one time led the game 3-0 and 4-1. The goal was the perfect time for Pominville to end a 16 game scoring draught. 

The Sabres got off to a hot start scoring three times in under fifteen minutes: Adam Mair scored his 7th of the season as he deflected in a shot from Rivet, on the power play Jaroslav Spacek got his 4th, and Derek Roy netted his 20th on a Sharks Sabres Hockeysweet wrist shot at the tail end of a power play. With under two minutes left in the first, Patrick Marleau scored with the man advantage to get the Sharks on the board, 3-1. About half way through the second, the Sabre special teams get it done again as Ales Kotalik scored his 12th of the season, putting Buffalo up 4-1. Ryan Miller stopped former Sabre, Mike Grier on a breakaway chance before things started to go San Jose’s way. The Sharks scored three in a row: Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle in the second, and a power play goal in the third from Devin Setoguchi tied the  game at 4-4. With just under ten minutes left in the third period, Craig Rivet was called for a bogus high sticking penalty. The penalty cost the Sabres a goal as Andrej Sekera lost his stick and Joe Pavelski punched it by Miller to give San Jose the lead, 5-4. With 3.9 seconds left to play in the third, Rivet made up for it with his clutch shot from the point that Pominville tipped home, sending the game to OT. 

The Sabres and Sharks managed to each get 35 shots on goal in regulation and OT. Ryan Miller and Evgeni Nabokov Sharks Sabres Hockeystood tall in the shootout as both goalies stopped their first three shooters. Jason Pominville scored first to put Buffalo ahead, but Miller couldn’t get the win quite yet, as he let in a shot from Patrick Marleau (again) to tie up the shootout. Derek Roy then scored the go ahead shootout goal, and Miller stuffed Milan Michalek for the emotional Sabre win! HSBC Arena went nuts. To quote WGR550 reporter, Paul Hamilton:

“It seemed like that building was maybe the loudest I’ve heard it since the playoffs.”

Indeed it was, as 19,000 plus people witnessed their team put forth a gutsy effort, giving Buffalonians something to cheer about in the face of tragedy.

HURRICANES vs SABRES   2/15/09

After such an exciting game the Sabres were unable to respond, putting forth another lazy effort in front of their home crowd as they lost 3-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes. The game was an opportunity for Buffalo to gain some distance in the standings between themselves and the teams looking for a playoff spot. That didn’t happen, as the Sabres offense was shut down for the second time in three games. 

Essentially, the Sabres stuck it to their goalies with their weak play. Eric Staal got the ball rolling for Carolina, scoring with just over nine minutes into the game on the power play. Staal then earned the assist off of a Chad LaRose goal who punched in his own rebound, putting his team up 2-0. As a mercy move, Sabre head coach Lindy Ruff pulled Ryan Miller from net after Hurricanes Sabres Hockeythe first period. He let in 2 goals on 18 shots. Patrick Lalime stepped in to replace him, and had a solid outing. He stopped 26 shots before Sergei Samsonov knocked in his own rebound with just over two minutes left to play, putting the Hurricanes up 3-0. The score wouldn’t change again as Cam Ward stopped all 36 Buffalo shots. The Hurricanes managed a total of 47 shots on goal, and Lalime made 28 saves in his relief performance. 

“It’s a tough situation for our goaltenders when we’re leaving them out to dry like that. It’s disrespectful to those guys behind us,” said Sabre team captain Craig Rivet. He’s right, it is disrespectful to the goalies to play sloppy and make lazy plays. It’s even more disrespectful to the fans, forcing them to watch a pathetic performance from their hockey club against a rival squad.

Pathetic. 

Quick Hits

  • Top Duelers of the Week:     #1 Craig Rivet    #2 Ryan Miller    #3 Derek Roy
  • Dull Sabre of the Week: Tim Connolly. After scoring 5 goals and 9 assists in 12 games, Connolly has had 1 assist and 0 goals in the last three.
  • Sabres that Need Sharpening: Ales Kotalik and Jochen Hecht. While Kotalik is a clutch shootout scorer and a decent special teamer, he needs to improve his defensive play. Silly penalties and lazy stick checks result in goals for the other team. Jochen Hecht had 22 goals last season, but finds himself with only 6 this year. The fewest goals he has ever scored was 0 in the 98-99 season (Oilers), but he only played in three games. Since then his worst season was in 02-03 (Sabres) where he managed to score only 10 goals. He is on pace to have the worst season of his NHL career. 
  • Broken Blades: Thomas Vanek/fractured jaw/3-4 weeks, Paul Gaustad/upper body/day to day, Henrik Tallinder/right shoulder/day to day, Maxim Afinogenov/groin/day to day.Hurricanes Sabres Hockey
  • The Sabres are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games.
  • Derek Roy has 100 career goals and Drew Stafford has 100 career points.
  • Ales Kotalik has 6 shootout goals this season, and is the first NHL player to obtain 10 game winning shootout goals in his career. For the time being it’s an NHL record.
  • Andrej Sekera returned from injury against San Jose, so Mike Weber was sent back to Portland.
  • The Sabres organization has announced that ticket prices will go up an average of 5% next year for non- season ticket holders.
  • The Sabres are 19-1-4 when leading after two.
  • Miller is 7-2 this year in shootouts.
  • The plane that crashed into Clarence happened one day after the year anniversary of Florida Panther’s player, Richard Zednik, slitting his throat open in a game at Buffalo.
  • For the San Jose game, defenceman/makeshift forward, Nathan Paetsch was scratched in favor of Danielle Paille.
  • San Jose is now 10-2-3 against the East this season.

The Final Word

The Sabres lost ground this week as they slip to 8th place in the Eastern Conference with 64 points. Here are the Eastern Conference standings:

  1. Boston Bruins (86 points)
  2. New Jersey Devils (77)
  3. Washington Capitals (77)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (69)
  5. Montreal Canadiens (66)
  6. New York Rangers (66)
  7. Florida Panthers (64)
  8. Buffalo Sabres (64)

On the outside looking in for that final playoff spot are the Carolina Hurricanes (61), Pittsburgh Penguins (59), and Toronto Maple Leafs (52).

45059401Buffalo has a tough week coming up playing three  games in five nights. Next, the Sabres travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs on Tuesday,  and then go to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers on Thursday. The Sabres close out the week against the New York Rangers at HSBC Arena on Saturday. Buffalo needs to come away at with at least four points in these games, or they will find themselves out of playoff contention. 

For Sabre interviews following the crash of Continental Flight 3407, click here.

For more info on the crash visit www.buffalonews.com.

Thanks to NHL.com and WGR550.com for providing statistics.

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