Maple Leafs Sabres HockeyIn his debut since injuring his ankle on February 21, starting goalie Ryan Miller sparkled in the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 victory over the hot Toronto Maple Leafs, and stood tall in the 4-3 shootout win against the teetering Montreal Canadiens on Friday and Saturday night. Both games were exciting, intense, and gritty, complete with a pseudo playoff atmosphere. The victories keep Buffalo’s playoff hopes alive, and improve their season record to 37-30-8.

Maple Leafs vs. Sabres   3/27/09

Game Summary

This match-up at the HSBC Arena marked trade deadline acquisition, Dominic Moore’s first game against his former team. Normally, Martin Gerber would have started in net for the Loafs. However, due to his childish actions of shoving referee Mike Leggo and shooting a puck in his direction in Toronto’s 3-2 shootout win against the Capitals, Gerber has been suspended for 3 games. While serving the first game of his sentence, long time veteran Curtis Joseph started in his stead. Thankfully, he was horrendous. Only 37 seconds in, Jochen Hecht scored glove side for his 10th of the season, giving Buffalo an early 1-0 lead. 9 minutes later Tim Connolly came charging in on a 2 on 1 rush with Clarke MacArthur. Connolly scored his 15th of the year as he ripped it off the post and the puck bounced off of Joseph’s back leg for the score. Despite being out-shot 14-4 in the period, the Sabres found themselves up 2-0 at it’s conclusion.

Maple Leafs Sabres HockeyJust over 3 minutes into the second period, Danielle Paille scored top shelf (his 11th) to put Buffalo up 3-0. Paille earned the goal on what is quickly becoming his signature move: skate down the left side, wait for the opening, and snipe a wrist shot past the goaltender. Dominic Moore assisted on the goal, giving him his 100th career point. Seconds later, Connolly got his second past Joseph (his 16th) who was screened by Sabres defenceman, Chris Butler. As a result of letting in two goals in 21 seconds, Joseph was replaced by rookie Justin Pogge, who put in a decent relief performance. With the Sabres on the power play, Boyd Devereaux scored shorthanded on a nifty move to get the Loafs on the board, 4-1. The goal was Boyd’s first of the year.

Sabres nation nearly hit the panic button when it looked like the Sabres would suffer another 3rd period meltdown. Matt Stajan scored almost 8 minutes into the period, bringing the Loafs within two on a fluky deflection that rolled down Miller’s back and into the net. Nikolai Kulemin made it 4-3 on the power play 43 seconds later, lifting the puck over a sprawling Miller who had previously stopped a barrage of Toronto shots. Karma came full circle though, as Paul Gaustad scored a similar goal (his 10th) with Pogge on the ground at the half way mark of the final frame. Jochen Hecht began the successful play by snapping off a quick shot at Pogge, and Goose was there to snatch up the rebound. The insurance goal was all Buffalo would need as they went on to win, 5-3.

The final shots in this game were 35 to 24 in favor of Toronto. Buffalo went 0 for 2 on the power play, while Toronto went 1 for 5.

Sabres Canadiens HockeySabres vs. Canadiens   3/28/09

Game Summary

After a lengthy, grueling, and unnecessary pre game ceremony at the Bell Centre, the Montreal Canadiens got off to a fast start against the Buffalo Sabres. At the outset, the Canadiens were playing tougher hockey than Buffalo, completing their checks and getting quality chances on net. Ryan Miller, however, bought his team time, keeping the Canadiens off the board until they could settle into the game. They did with 2 and a half minutes remaining in the opening frame, as Jochen Hecht’s shot was tipped in by Adam Mair (his 8th on the year) to put the Sabres on the board first, 1-0.

On the power play with 2:36 gone by in the second period, Tim Connolly scored his 17th of the season, getting the puck past Montreal goalie Carey Price. The Canadiens, however, would go on to score three in a row over a 7:16 span. Christopher Higgins got Montreal on the board, and Alexei Kovalev tied the game at 2 with 7:47 remaining in the second. Kovalev scored minutes later on a 5 on 3 situation, to put the Canadiens up 3-2 at the end of two.

Clarke MacArthur scored his 15th of the year 3:58 into the third period, tying the game at 3 (which may have saved the Sabres season). The Sabres swarmed the Canadiens in the final frame, out-shooting them 16-7, but neither team managed to score, sending the game into overtime. Buffalo had the better opportunities in the intense end to end OT, but again, neither team scored, which resulted in a shootout. This shootout was Miller’s first since returning from injury, and to be blunt, he kicked ass, stopping all 6 Montreal shooters. Buffalo defenceman Toni Lydman was the hero of the night, scoring the only goal in the shootout, winning the game for the Sabres. His teammates Tim Connolly, Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, and Thomas Vanek all failed to score in the shootout.

The Sabres out-shot the Canadiens 37-35 and were 1 for 3 on the power play, while Montreal was 1 for 4.

Game Analysis

Paul Gaustad and Pat Kaleta led the physical charge for the Sabres in both games. They were very aggressive; hitting guys, and protecting Ryan Miller at all costs as he was being bumped by both teams (who even went as low as to blast snow in the goaltenders face). Led by Gaustad and Kaleta, the Sabres players didn’t take any garbage, and their eagerness to defend Miller was admirable as their previous unwillingness to come to his aid resulted in Miller’s ankle injury and a fall in the standings. Former Sabre gone Maple Loaf, Brady May, was trying to Sabres Canadiens Hockeypressure Kaleta into dropping his gloves all night long, but Kaleta proved to be the mature one and never took the bait. Still, there were a handful of brawls in the Toronto contest in which Gaustad, Kaleta, and Moore were involved in, and team Captain, Craig Rivet dropped the gloves in Montreal. None of the Sabres players lost their fights as Maple Loafs or Canadiens hit the ice first. 

These two games may have been Jochen Hecht’s best two all season. He scored the first goal against Toronto and Montreal, as well as set up the insurance goal by Gaustad in the Loafs game. Hecht is still taking some silly penalties, but his hard work at driving to the net isn’t going unnoticed. Props also need to be given to rookie defenceman, Chris Butler. Butler is a quiet difference maker for the Sabres, as he leads the team in plus(-) rating with +8; he is +15 at home -7 on the road. 

Against Montreal, Pat Kaleta was boared by the cowardly Maxim Lapierre. Reports were claiming that Kaleta suffered a mild concussion on the hit.

Sabres fans can’t help but wonder where Thomas Vanek been these last two games. 8 regulation goals were scored and Vanek had 0 points and a -1 rating in the two contests. That needs to change if the Sabres hope to continue their winning ways.

Fast Facts

-Ryan Miller is 31-16-5 this year with a , 2.52 GAA, and a .918 save %.

 -Toronto goalie, Curtis Joseph, let in 4 goals on 9 shots against the Sabres.

-Loafs backup goalie, Justin Pogge, is 0-3-0  against Buffalo this season with a 4.5 GAA.

-The Sabres have outscored the Loafs 9-0 in the 1st period this season.

-Before coming into the HSBC Arena Friday night, the Loafs had won 10 of their last 15 games. 

-So far this year Buffalo has outscored Toronto 19 to 7 and is 4-1 on the season series. 

-The Sabres have outscored the Canadiens 19-14 and are 4-1-1 on the season series.

-Against Montreal, Maxim Afinogenov was scratched in favor of Adam Mair.

-Buffalo won 57% of the face-offs against the Canadiens.

-The Sabres are 26-2-1 when scoring 4 or more goals this season.

-The Sabres have had 5 shorthanded goals scored against them this year.

-Buffalo is 8-5 in shootouts this season.
-In their last 7 games, the Sabres have allowed 27 goals and have scored 26.

The Final Word

These two wins and 4 points were season savers for Buffalo. While the Sabres still sit in 10th place, they are now only 4 points away from the final playoff spot. Here is how the Eastern Conference standings currently look:

  1. Boston Bruins (104 points/74 games played/clinched their division)
  2. Washington Capitals (99/76/clinched playoff spot)
  3. New Jersey Devils (98/75/clinched playoff spot)Sabres Canadiens Hockey
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (92/74)
  5. Carolina Hurricanes (91/77)
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins (90/76)
  7. New York Rangers (87/76)
  8. Montreal Canadiens (86/75)
  • In the Hunt: Florida Panthers (85/76), Buffalo Sabres (82/75), Toronto Maple Loafs (75/76), Ottawa Senators (74/74) 

The remaining playoff positions are still up for grabs, and anything can happen in the home stretch of the regular season. The Sabres have 7 games remaining, for a total of 14 available points. In their last 7 games, the Carolina Hurricanes have managed to go from barely holding onto 8th place, to being firmly seated in 5th. The point: anything can happen if the Sabres can muster up a serious win streak.

Now that the team has found some consistency in winning 3 straight, the Sabres desperately need to improve the play in their own end and hold onto leads. Both of these tasks won’t be easy as Buffalo’s next three opponents are the Atlanta Thrashers, the Washington Capitals, and the New Jersey Devils.