Thrashers Sabres HockeyThe Sabres lost to the Atlanta Thrashers at the HSBC Arena Friday night, 4-3 in a shootout. Despite a 3 goal second period, the Sabres couldn’t hold on for a much needed extra point, losing to a club who is out of the playoff race. 

Game Summary

Despite some great shifts from the Mair/Moore/Afinogenov line, the Thrashers got on the board first while on the power play. Vyacheslav Kozlov got the puck past Buffalo goalie Patrick Lalime with 25 seconds to go in the opening period. The score would remain 1-0 until a little under seven minutes left in the second when the Sabres would score 3 goals in 5:05. Danielle Paille got the Sabres on the board with his 9th of the year (and his second in the last two games) by driving hard to the net. About three minutes later, a buzzing Derek Roy netted his 25th of the season, and Maxim Afinogenov capped the scoring for the Sabres (his 4th) with a minute and a half to play in the period. Afinogenov was in the right place at the right time, finishing a perfect feed from Thomas Vanek, putting the Sabres up 3-1.

The third period would begin with Eric Perrin charging Tim Connolly for no apparent reason. Perrin went mugged Connolly immediately after the puck was dropped, and his actions earned him 10 minutes in the box and a Buffalo power play. The Sabres couldn’t capitalize though, and while they had some chances in the period, it would be the Thrashers who scored the next two goals. Buffalo had the man advantage when Jaroslav Spacek’s shot from the point was blocked, sending the puck to Colin Stuart for a 2 on 1 situation. Stuart was trailed by Marty Reasoner, and when Lalime made the initial save on him, Reasoner was there to punch in the rebound, scoring short handed, making the score 3-2. Thomas Vanek nearly scored with 5:37 to play, but Kari Lehtonen made a highlight worthy acrobatic save to keep his team down by 1. Buffalo’s bad luck continued when with only 3.5 seconds remaining in the game, Todd White knocked one in to force OT. The puck sat behind Lalime for a few beats, and as he went to cover it with his glove, White batted it in for the goal.

An exciting overtime saw some spectacular saves from the goaltenders but no goals, sending the contest to a Thrashers Sabres Hockeyshootout. For the first time since the trade deadline, the Sabres missed shootout go-to-guy Ales Kotalik as Roy, Connolly, Drew Stafford, and Vanek all failed to get the puck past Lehtonen. Brett Sterling, who was called up from the minor leagues to play in the game, scored the winning goal in his first shootout attempt; Lalime should have poked checked him. 

Game Analysis

The Sabres have played badly against bad teams this season, and except for the 6 minute onslaught in the second period, the trend continued last night. When the team doesn’t skate hard, they usually end up of losing as their speed and agility are their assets. The longer it takes for this to sink into the heads of the Sabres, the longer it will take for them to go on a successful run.

As annoying as he has been in the past, Maxim Afinogenov has upped his game significantly since returning from a groin (and neck) injury. He has scored 2 goals in 5 games and is constantly creating chances for the Sabres. He’s gotten smarter with the puck and appears to be back to his shifty self from a few seasons ago. The same can be said about new Sabre Dominic Moore who has been great on the penalty kill and isn’t afraid to hit people. Sabres fans are still awaiting his first goal in a blue and gold sweater…

Defenceman Toni Lydman is the unsung hero of this team (when he isn’t turning the puck over), and has come into his own this season. Lydman used to be a wishy-washy d-man, but this year he has stepped up his play by putting shots on net, making hits, and displaying solid leadership for his teammates. Head Coach Lindy Ruff appears to agree as Lydman logged 25:16 minutes of ice time in last night’s game, the most by any Sabre.

Fast Facts

-Patrick Lalime made 29 saves for the Sabres, compared to 34 saves by Kari Lehtonen.

-The Thrashers were 1-6 on the power play and the Sabres were 0-3.

-The Thrashers appear to have Buffalo’s number as the Sabres have gone 0-0-3 against Atlanta this season. To boot, Buffalo was 4-0 to begin the year until Atlanta handed them their first loss. The Thrashers were also the guilty party in snapping Buffalo’s 10 game win streak to start the 2006-2007 NHL season. The loss prevented the club from setting a new franchise record.


-Pat Kaleta has 114 hits on the season and Derek Roy has 15 multi-point games.

Thrashers Sabres Hockey-The Sabres are 7-5 in the shootout this year and have 13 games remaining (6 at the HSBC Arena). The Sabres are 10-3-1 at home in 2009.

-The players with the worst plus(-) rating for the Sabres are Jochen Hecht (-12), Jason Pominville (-11), Andrej Sekera (-11), and Maxim Afinogenov (-10). These four guys combined have 30 goals on the year. The Sabres with the best plus(-) rating are Drew Stafford (+7), Matt Ellis, Patrick Kaleta, Chris Butler, and Nathan Gerbe who are all tied with +3. These five guys combined have 28 goals. 

-In unrelated news, the New Jersey Devils defeated the Montreal Canadiens, tying Devils goalie Martin Brodeur with Patrick Roy for the most career wins in the NHL. Both players have 551.

Final World

Considering the Florida Panthers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Carolina Hurricanes also lost in a shootout last night, the Sabres only close the gap on the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers who lost in regulation. As a result, not much changed in the Eastern Conference standings:

  1.  Boston Bruins (99 points)
  2. New Jersey Devils (93)
  3. Washington Capitals (92)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (84)
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins (82)
  6. Montreal Canadiens (80)
  7. New York Rangers (80)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes (79)
  • In the hunt: Florida Panthers (78), Buffalo Sabres (76), Toronto Maple Loafs (69)

The Sabres are obviously far from out of it, but this is the time of year where every point could mean a post season appearance or a final game in April. While the Sabres managed a point last night, they continue to back themselves into a corner. Lalime has now started 9 straight games and he is beginning to look tired. A huge demand was placed on him when Miller went down and he has risen to the challenge, playing very well as a stand in. Unfortunately, the rest of the Sabres are still struggling with consistency problems. Buffalo has been playing .500 hockey for the past month, and if they hope to cover ground in the standings they need to get into a rhythm.

The team will have that opportunity Tuesday night when they travel to Ottawa to take on the Senators, who rank 25th in the league. Like the Thrashers, however, the Sens have owned the Sabres this year as Buffalo has gone 1-3-1 against them. The Sabres cannot afford a loss as their following three games are against the Flyers, Rangers, and Panthers.