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.


Panthers Sabres HockeyBoth the Buffalo Sabres and the Florida Panthers entered the HSBC Arena last night ice cold and desperately in need of two points to stay in the tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff race. To start the third period, the Sabres found themselves down 3-1, but managed 3 goals in a 2:07 span, rallying to defeat Florida by a final score of 5-3. “We had to be desperate. This is that time of year,” said Buffalo Sabre, Jason Pominville. 

After being booed by their fans throughout the first two periods, the Sabres desperate play was eerily reminiscent to the comeback Buffalo made against the Tampa Bay Lightning just over a year ago. Check out these freaky comparisons:

  • On March 19, 2008 at the HSBC Arena, the Sabres were down 4-1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With 15 minutes to play in the third period, Buffalo rallied to defeat Tampa 7-4. On March 25, 2009 at the HSBC Arena, the Sabres were down 3-1 against the Florida Panthers. With just under 14 minutes to play in the third period, Buffalo rallied to defeat Florida 5-3.
  • These victories are just over 1 year apart. 
  • Both rallies came within 1 minute of each other in game time.
  • In both games, the Sabres needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
  • Jason Pominville set up both comebacks, scoring twice in the Tampa game, and once with two assists in the Florida game.
  • Both contests were at the HSBC Arena and against teams from the state of Florida.
  • In both games the fans booed the Sabres off the ice.
  • In the third period Buffalo out shot Tampa 16-4, and Florida 21-9.
  • The win against Tampa put Buffalo in 9th place with 81 points. With the win against Florida, Buffalo remains in 10th place with 78 points.
  • At the time in 2008, the Toronto Maple Loafs were 5 points behind the Sabres. Currently, the Loafs are only 3 points behind Buffalo.

Weird, eh?

Game Summary

Before the game, Panthers right winger, Radek Dvorak was quoted as saying, “I have a good feeling that good things are going to happen.”

Oops.

Trade deadline acquisition, goalie Mikael Tellqvist, made his first home start for the Sabres stopping 30 shots in the win. Opposing goaltender, Tomas Vokoun made 40 saves for the Panthers. On only their third shot of the game, Florida went up 1-0 by an ugly goal from Brett McLean. In his 799th career game, Sabres Captain, Craig Rivet scored on the power play Panthers Sabres Hockeywith 15 seconds remaining in the opening frame for his 2nd of the season. Richard Zednik (the guy who had his throat slit open at HSBC Arena a little over a year ago) scored the go ahead goal for Florida with just over five minutes to play in the second. Michael Frolik scored on a trickling puck to put the Panthers up 3-1 early in the third period. Then came the 2 minute onslaught by the Sabres. The comeback began as Jason Pominville responded to Frolik’s goal, scoring his 16th of the year and putting Buffalo within one. Clarke MacArthur tied it up on a slap shot and then Tim Connolly scored the game winner on the power play, making the score 4-3. The goals were MacArthur’s and Connolly’s 14th of the season. Maxim Afinogenov scored the empty netter (his 5th), making the final 5-3 Buffalo. Max’s goal triggered a bum rush from Nathan Horton and company, going after Max in a childish fit of frustration.

Fast Facts

-The Sabres had only 1 power play goal in their previous 6 games, going 1 for 26. Last night they were 2 for 5. The Panthers were 0 for 2.

-Florida didn’t get their first shot on goal until 7 minutes into the game. The Sabres had already tallied 4. 

-Before last night, the Panthers were 21-9-4 when they scored first. The Sabres have won 3 straight and 5 of the last 6 against them.

-History dictates that the City of Buffalo hasn’t been kind to the Panthers or Richard Zednik. Florida is 7-19-2 with 3 ties at HSBC all time (including this game). Despite scoring a goal, Zednik shed blood onto Buffalo’s home ice for the second year in a row (both times from friendly fire). In this instance, however, the injury was far less severe, as teammate Cory Stillman’s shot struck Zednik in the right side of his face shield. He was cut across the nose and quickly made his way to the locker room. Zednik returned to the bench a few minutes later though, 84-sabres_game_sports_panthers_at_sabres_004standaloneprod_affiliate501seemingly in good health. The injury creepily took place right near the spot where his throat was cut open just over a year ago.

 

-Drew Stafford is in the midst of a really bad slump, scoring only 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 14 games.

-Although Afinogenov scored the empty netter and put out some tough shifts alongside Danielle Paille and Dominic Moore, the forward seemed to revert to his old ways (of turning the puck over) a handful of times last night. At one point, Max was out for a lengthy 2:04 shift. Upon returning to the bench, head coach Lindy Ruff chewed him out for the move.

-Buffalo color guy, Harry Neale had the quote of the season when he said that Buffalo was trapped in their own end “like pregnant foxes in a forest fire.” I’m not sure if that’s hilarious, ridiculous, or terrible… probably all of the above.

The Final Word

With the win, the Sabres improve to 35-30-8 on the year, but continue to be locked in 10th place. Here is how the Eastern Conference is looking:

  1. Boston Bruins (102 points/73 games played/clinched the NE Division)
  2. New Jersey Devils (97/73/clinched playoff birth)
  3. Washington Capitals (97/75/clinched playoff birth)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (90/72)
  5. Carolina Panthers (89/76)
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins (88/75)
  7. New York Rangers (86/74)
  8. Montreal Canadiens (83/73)
  • In the Hunt: Florida Panthers (81/74), Buffalo Sabres (78/73), Toronto Maple Loafs (75/74), Ottawa Senators (74/73)

Panthers Sabres HockeyIt’s easy to see that the final five spots are still up for grabs. Any team can begin to slump while another goes on a playoff propelling win streak. Hopefully, the latter is the route the Sabres can take as they are expecting starting goaltender Ryan Miller to return for Friday’s match-up against the Maple Loafs at home. Miller has stated that his ankle is, “as good as it’s going to get.” Buffalo has gone 4-7-2 without him between the pipes, and with only 9 games remaining in the season, they can’t afford another losing streak. After Toronto, Buffalo takes on the Montreal Canadiens and the Atlanta Thrashers on the road.

One year ago, the Sabres mounted an electrifying comeback against the Tampa Bay Lightning to keep their playoff hopes alive. After that victory, however, the Sabres dropped 2 straight, and went 4-3-1 to close out the season. They missed the playoffs by 4 points, finishing in 10th place.

Hopefully, history won’t be repeating itself.


newsabresThe 2009 NHL trading deadline has come and gone and the Buffalo Sabres have made some moves. The most significant of which was keeping glass man, Tim Connolly in Buffalo. Connolly signed a two year contract extension worth $9 million with the club, while Ales Kotalik was shown the door. The right winger has been traded to the Edmonton Oilers, and his replacement comes from the Toronto Maple Leafs in centre Dominic Moore. The Sabres also signed goalie Mikael Tellqvist from the Phoenix Coyotes. While Buffalo didn’t make any dramatic moves by the deadline, they did come out a slightly better club at the end of the night as they went on to defeat division rival, the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 5-1. The victory improved Buffalo’s record to 32-25-7, moving them up into 9th place and one spot out of the playoffs.

Let’s take a closer look at the events of the day:

3447786819Goalie Mikael Tellqvist comes to Buffalo: The Sabres sent a 4th round pick to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Swedish goaltender, Mikael Tellqvist. Tellqvist, the former backup in Phoenix, has started 13 games this season, going 7-5-1. He has a 2.86 GAA and a .907% save percentage for a total of 38 goals scored against him on the year. Compare these stats to current Sabres backup goalie, Patrick Lalime who has started 14 games this year, going 3-9-2. His GAA is 2.78 with a .909% save percentage and 42 goals let in. In Lalime’s defense, his team looks like a totally different club with starting goalie Ryan Miller in-between the pipes. In front of Lalime the Sabres have been sluggish with a horrendous offensive output, averaging a mere 2.4 goals per game. 7 of those goals came on his first start of the year when Buffalo beat the New York Islanders 7-1, and another 5 goals came last night with the victory against the Habs. Take those 12 goals away on the bookend games, and the Sabres average a despicable 1.75 goals in 12 games with Lalime as a starter. It’s tough to blame those losses on the backup. That being said, since Miller went down with a high ankle sprain on February 21st, Patrick has carried the team, allowing only 7 goals in his 4 straight starts, stopping an average of 32 shots a game. Lalime became a liability when he came down with the flu and head coach Lindy Ruff was almost forced to bench him in favor of AHL goalie, Jhonas Enroth. Enroth’s game has slipped as of late, with the goalie playing .500 hockey. Wanting more experience in net in-case Lalime goes down and Miller stays injured, Ruff went with Tellqvist who with 7 years in the league has amassed a career record of 43-40-8, with 2 ties and 6 shutouts. The last player Buffalo acquired from Phoenix was Daniel Briere, which turned out to be the trade of the decade for the Sabres. Lalime has faced 461 shots this year, compared to Tellqvist’s 408.

connolly-3-21-08-bigTim Connolly signs 2 year $9 million deal: In his last three seasons with Buffalo Tim Connolly has missed 149 games, playing in only 79 contests. Assuming Connolly misses more time, this signing may turn out to be a waste of money for the Sabres. No Sabre is more injury prone than Connolly, as he’s never been the same after suffering a concussion in the 2005-2006 playoffs against the Ottawa Senators. If Connolly goes down again, this deal could be considered a missed opportunity for the Sabres to trade him for a more reliable player down the stretch. His stock is currently the highest it’s been since the 2005-2006 season, and now that he’s staying put, Sabres fans hope Connolly’s value continues to climb. Tim’s new contract is a 50% pay increase from his previous deal, and as long as he stays healthy, he is worth the money. Says Connolly of the signing, “Glad that I was able to stay in Buffalo, great hockey town, great place to play, great group of guys. I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season, and doing what we can do to make the playoffs.” The Syracuse native has 11 goals and 16 assists (27 points) in 30 games played this year. He has a +1 rating with 2 power play goals, 1 short handed goal, and 3 game winning goals. Connolly was traded to Buffalo (along with Taylor Pyatt) from the New York Islanders in 2001 for local favorite Michael Peca. 

Sabres trade for Dominic Moore and let go of Ales Kotalik: The Sabres picked up centre Dominic Moore from division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a second round pick. Hours later the Sabres recovered ground in the draft as Ales Kotalik was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers also for a second round draft pick. At first glance, it appears that the Sabres over payed for Moore, a 28 year old journeyman, but upon closer inspection it turns out that he was essentially traded for Kotalik. Moore, who is two years younger than Kotalik, kotalik0has found most of his success this season parked in front of the net, scoring 12 goals on the year and 29 assists (41 points). Moore also has a -1 rating, with 4 power play goals, 1 short handed goal, and 1 game winning goal. Ales Kotalik has spent his entire career in Buffalo, and has been one of teams better players as of late scoring 13 goals and 19 assists (32 points) this season. He has a -7 rating with 8 power play goals and 1 game winning goal. Kotalik also holds the NHL record in career game winning shoot-out goals with 10. Moore, an Ontario native, does fill a hole with the Sabres as he’s a big guy who plays hard and can score. The question is though, will he stick around past this season? He becomes a free agent at the end of the year and may go the way of former Sabre rent-a-players Dainius Zubrus and Steve Bernier. While Sabre fans will miss Kotalik’s hard slap shot and reliability in shootouts, his lazy skating, weak checking, and unnecessary penalties won’t be missed. Kotalik’s dealing came as somewhat of a surprise as Jochen Hecht and Maxim Afinogenov seemed to be more valuable trade bait.

The Final Word: By the end of he day, the Sabres did make improvements to the team, but the next two months will prove whether they were enough to propel the club into the post season. Buffalo looked like the team they hope to be Wednesday night at HSBC Arena, as they defeated the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 5-1. Buffalo got a Thrashers Maple Leafs Hockeypair of goals from Derek Roy (24 on the year) and Paul Gaustad (9). Roy scored first in the game on the power play, and again in the second period. Gaustad’s goals both came in the third, one on the power play and the other on a breakaway while the Sabres were short handed. Jaroslav Spacek (7) scored the other Sabre goal halfway through the second period. A la Ryan Miller, Patrick Lalime had his shutout attempt spoiled by Tomas Plekanec with 1:06 left to play in the game. With the win, the Sabres move to one point out of 8th place, the final playoff spot. While the Pittsburgh Penguins occupy that coveted spot in the rankings, the Sabres have a game in hand on them, so a win would put them back in playoff contention. Here’s how the Eastern Conference standings look:

  1. Boston Bruins (93 points)
  2. New Jersey Devils (87)
  3. Washington Capitals (85)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (78)
  5. Montreal Canadiens (75)
  6. Florida Panthers (74)
  7. New York Rangers (72)
  8. Pittsburgh Penguins (72)

In the hunt: Buffalo Sabres (71), Carolina Hurricanes (71), Toronto Maple Leafs (63)

Happily, the Sabres hold the tie breaker over the Rangers, and have a game in hand on the Hurricanes. If forced into a tie with Carolina, however, the Sabres lose the edge as the Hurricanes have the tie breaker. With Thomas Vanek back in the line up, Tim Connolly signed semi-long term, and the additions of Tellqvist and Moore, the Sabres have a shot at making a playoff run. Ryan Miller is the teams sole injury and is out indefinitely. His return would be ideal, but as long as Lalime keeps up his strong play and Tellqvist serves his duty as a backup to the backup, it’s the offense that will dictate where this team is headed. Players like Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht, Henrik Tallinder, and Maxim Afenogneov have been cold all season and need to step it for their team. Thomas Vanek also needs to be the player he was before he fractured his jaw. Most importantly, the Buffalo Sabres need to put together a win streak and obtain some consistency, something they’ve been lacking since losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury two seasons ago…

Lets go Buffalo!


Welcome to the first installment of my new weekly column, Sabre Tactics! Every weekend I will review and summarize the Buffalo Sabres games from the past week, provide highlights and stats on the progress of the team, and preview the games of the upcoming week. For easy reference, I have attached video links to key plays performed by Buffalo players.

This past week the Sabres attained 5 points out of a possible 8, going 2-1-1.  The two wins were at home, the regulation loss in Anaheim, and the shootout loss was in Ottawa. The hard earned points allow for the Sabres to claim the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. The club received some phenomenal goal-tending by Ryan Miller and witnessed a natural hat trick from Thomas Vanek.

Recap of this week’s action:

Sabres Ducks HockeySABRES vs DUCKS  2/2/09

For the Sabres, this game closed out a West Coast road trip that began before the All-Star break. Buffalo went 3-3 on the trip, dropping their final game to the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 3-2.

In his first game back from injury, Pat Kaleta scored the first goal of the contest, his 3rd of the season. The Sabres would be kept off the score board until the third period when team captain, Craig Rivet, finally got his first goal of the season. Backup Patrick Lalime had the start in net for Buffalo and played a solid game, stopping 34 shots. His best performance was in the second period when he faced 20 shots and only let in 1 goal, compliments of Chris Pronger. Across the ice, the Sabres offense only managed 23 shots on goal (a mere 6 in the second period), giving Duck’s goalie Jonas Miller an easy night. Buffalo had a power play opportunity and some chances in the closing minutes, but couldn’t get it done.

This game took place amidst lead color guy, Rick Jeanneret’s vacation. Without a doubt, it’s weird hearing a Sabres game called without his voice. I rue the day that he retires from calling Sabres games.

LEAFS vs SABRES  2/4/09

The Sabres rebounded in their first game home at HSBC Arena since January 17, blanking the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0. Thomas Vanek stole the show with his 4th career natural hat trick (his 5th career hat trick), and Ryan Miller shined for Buffalo, getting his 5th shutout of the season and his 2nd in two games (2-0 against the Phoenix Coyotes). Maple Leafs Sabres HockeyTeppo Numminen also returned to the ice from a broken jaw injury.

The last time the Sabres played the Leafs in Buffalo, I was there with my dad. The Sabres lost 2-1 and the Loafs fans stuck it to us all the way to our cars. This time around I’m happy that lots of Leafs fans wasted their gas money to see their team get shredded. 

Toronto lost to the Florida Panthers the night before in OT, and their fatigue showed in this game. Tim Connolly got the scoring started in the first period with his 10th of season, and Drew Stafford put the Sabres up by two with his 14th. Stafford had a great night, also having an assist and a +3 rating. Thomas Vanek scored his 30th, 31st, and 32nd goal of the season, starting in the second period on the power play. He then he put the Sabres up 4-0 when Drew Stafford found him on the breakaway early in the third period. Less than four minutes later Vanek continued to dominate, earning his natural hat trick when Buffalo had the two man advantage. True to his style, he was camped out in front of the net, easily getting the puck by rookie goalie, Justin Pogge (who was playing in his 3rd NHL game). Buffalo hit him with 32 shots in the game, while Ryan Miller only had to turn aside 16 in the victory. 

Sabres color guy, Harry Neale, had the quote of the night while trying to remember the name of our goal tender: “Ryan Murray, Ryan Miller, Murray.” Hilarious. At this point, Vanek was 7th in the NHL in shooting percentage. Out of 164 shots on goal, he connected on 19.5% of them.

CANADIENS vs SABRES 2/6/09

Ryan Miller critics can no longer claim that the Buffalo goaltender hasn’t stolen one for his team. In the first period, Miller was blasted with 15 shots and didn’t let one of them in as the Buffalo Sabres went on to beat the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2.

Miller carried his team to the victory as the offense sputtered in this match-up (two of the Sabre goals came from defencemen). He stopped 35 shots and his shut out streak of 157:13 was ruined by Saku Koivu halfway through the second period. Miller’s previous streak was 149:12 earlier this season, and his great play hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates:

Canadiens Sabres Hockey“Ryan kept us in the game. It would have been two or three-nothing, and it would be tough to come back against a team like the Canadiens. … every night, he gives us a chance.” – Defenseman, Jaroslav Spacek

Spacek got things going for the Sabres, scoring just 27 seconds into the second period to put Buffalo up 1-0. This was his first game back after missing the previous two with a hip injury. The Candiens would respond with a goal from Saku Koivu, but less than three minutes later defenceman playing forward for the evening, Nathan Paetsch, scored his second of the year to put the Sabres back out in front 2-1. In 59 games last season Paetsch scored a mere 2 goals, but this season he has that many in only 19 games. Paetsch’s play has come under fire from head coach Lindy Ruff and the Buffalo fan base, as he took a demotion earlier in the year. Due to the teams defensive injuries, he’s back on the ice and it’s nice to see him respond in a positive way. In the third period, the red hot Tim Connolly scored the game winning goal, his 11th of the season, in dramatic fashion; While on his knees, he shot the puck off the backhand, putting away an opportunity off of a bad Montreal pass. 

Carey Price had a mediocre night as the Sabres put only 25 shots on him. Pat Kaleta had a replay worthy hit on defenceman Ryan O’Byrne. This was a huge win for the Sabres, as they currently trail the 4th place Canadiens by 2 points.

SABRES vs SENATORS  2/7/09

The Sabres played three games in four nights and it showed against the Ottawa Senators as they lost 3-2 in a shootout. Coming into this game, Ottawa ranked last in the league with 2.36 goals per game, and third last in the league overall. This victory was the first for their new head coach, Cory Clouston.

weber_0207091Despite overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the third and a decent turn out by Sabre fans, the club didn’t have enough gas in the tank for a win. Except for Ryan Miller (who stopped 26 shots before letting one in), Buffalo looked the worst in the second period, giving up 18 shots on goal and only managing 7 for themselves. Less than two minutes into the third period Adam Mair scored first for Buffalo, closing the gap to 2-1. Mair also had a nice hit on Jarkko Ruutu. Ruutu is a marked man to the Sabres after biting Buffalo tough guy, Andrew Peters on the thumb earlier this season. About five minutes later, Drew Stafford tied it up at 2 on the power play, his 15th of the season. The game went to a shootout, where Miller let in three off of the backhand. Ales Kotalik and Tim Connolly scored for Buffalo, while Drew Stafford was stopped. Derek Roy missed the net to lose it for the Sabres.

Once again, Miller kept the Sabres in the game making 40 saves to Elliot’s 28 saves for Ottawa. Miller made spectacular saves on Dany Heatley (Save 1Save 2) and Daniel Alfredsson. In the past, Jason Spezza has been a thorn in the Miller’s side, scoring 14 goals and 10 assist in 17 games since the 2006-2007 season, but Ryan stuffed him in the shootout.

Quick Hits

  • Top Duelers of the Week : #1 Ryan Miller   #2 Thomas Vanek   #3 Tim Connolly   Honorable Mention: Drew Stafford. See above.
  • Dull Sabre of the Week: Maxim Afinogenov. He’s been out 15 games and the Sabres have gone 9-5-1 in that span and Miller has had two shut outs. 
  • Sabres That Need Sharpening: Nathan Paetsch, Jochen Hecht, Jason Pominville. Hecht and Pominville are a combined -11. 
  • Broken Blades: Thomas Vanek/jaw/3-4 weeks, Paul Gaustad/upper body/day to day, Maxim Afinogenov/groin/IR, Henrik Tallinder/shoulder/IR, Andrej Sekera/ankle/IR.
  • In his last 15 games Ryan Miller is 11-3-1, and has allowed 2 or fewer goals ten times in that stretch.
  • Maple Leafs Sabres HockeyTim Connolly and Drew Stafford’s trade stock has never been higher. Connolly is injury prone and Stafford is prone to cool off for long stretches. Trading one of them now for a worthy goal scoring defenceman could prove to be beneficial for the club in the long run.
  • Marc-Andre Gragnani has been sent back down to the Portland Pirates.
  • A poll on espn.com asked if fighting should be banned in the NHL. Out of 23,975 votes 10% of the world says yes while an overwhelming 90% says no. The entire poll map was the color red, which represented ‘no’. Not a single state, country, or region on the planet had a majority vote that favors fighting being banned in the NHL. Kick. Ass.
  • ESPN gave a survey to NHL players, with one of the questions being, ‘Which team has the most disruptive fans?’ Buffalo and Chicago were tied at 4th with 4% of the player vote. Montreal was first with 13%, San Jose was second at 8%, and Calgary was third at 7%. Having 3% or less of the vote was Detroit, New York (Rangers), Edmonton, L.A., Vancouver, Minnesota, and Toronto. Five other teams had one vote.
  • The Sabres are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and have won 10 straight home games. 

The Final Word

The worst news of the week happened in the Ottawa game, and it isn’t that the Sabres lost. The news is far worse; Thomas Vanek is out 3-4 weeks after taking a puck to the face early in the game. The Sabres All-Star fractured his jaw and had successful surgery in Buffalo the following day. This happens at the worst time for Vanek as he has 52 points in 54 games, and is tied for 2nd in the league for goals scored.

This also happens at the worst time for his team.

The Sabres are clinging to 7th place in the Eastern Conference with 62 points. The New York Rangers are in 6th with 63 points, the Montreal Canadiens in 5th place with 64 points, and the Philadelphia Flyers have 65 points which puts them in 4th place. The New Jersey Devils (69 points), Washington Capitals (72), and Boston Bruins (85) occupy 3rd-1st place. In 8th place sit the Carolina Hurricanes (59) with the Florida Panthers (58 ) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (57) hungrily lurking on the outside looking in.  

Buffalo needs to find consistency in their play this week as they (again) face the Ottawa Senators and the San Jose Sharks. Ottawa is still in third last place in the league, where San Jose and ex-Sabre Mike Grier are the #1 team in the Western Conference.

Lets Go Buffalo!

Special thanks to nhl.com, espn.com, and wgr550.com for stats and facts.