The Sabres won tonight. Not only that, but they beat a team that wasn’t the Toronto Maple Leafs, which is utterly astonishing. What’s more, they did so in every phase of the game. Where they have made a season out of squandering great goaltending performances from Ryan Miller, the team put in the work against a better team and it paid off with a victory.
The most important thing about this game though was the Sabres response to a waived off goal in the second period. Momentum is serious business in the NHL, and even good teams have had trouble recovering from a tough break like that. But they (and the crowd inside the First Niagara) seemed to feed off of the frustration and got past the adversity. They got momentum on their side and kept going, survived a Senators surge to start the third period and pushed it to OT and the shootout.
I’ll say this about the shootout; it was ugly and I still have indigestion. After Matt Moulson scored on the opening shot with a nice little move, the Sabres got lucky with Karlsson and Spezza both stick-handling until they lost the puck, with Miller giving up an equalizer to Mika Zibanejad. Later in the ten round affair, Miller was able to bounce back after the Sabres and Sens traded goals in the sixth and seventh round before Zemgus Girgensons (the media’s 1st Star of the Night) put away the shootout clincher and Miller sealed the deal with a stop on Erik Condra.
All in all this was my most enjoyable night as a Sabres fan this season, eclipsing both Nolan’s first game behind the bench and the strong effort to pick up a surprising win in San Jose. It was the first time that it felt like they really might have a chance to get out of the gutter, and I’ll take it as something to build off of and a reason to keep coming back.
Stat Lines I Love
Zemgus Girgensons: 1 G, 3 Hits, 17:31 TOI, GWG in Shootout
Tyler Ennis: 4 S, 1 Hit, 1 Blocked Shot, 57% FO%, 21:55 TOI
Two sides of the Sabres youth movement were amazing tonight. Girgensons played hard and put through a clutch performance that earned him the 1st Star and scored the game winner in the shootout on a sick little move to beat Lehner. He’s developing into the kind of player that Sabres fans love to cheer for. Conversely, while Ennis didn’t get on the score sheet, he was all over the ice tonight and continued to grow and look like a new man since Ted Nolan took over, logging the most ice time of any Sabres forward.
Stat Lines I Hate
John Scott: 1 Hit, 5:16 TOI
Ville Leino: Scratched
I know it isn’t a popular opinion in Buffalo, but I’m still hopeful that Ville Leino can be a top player on this team. If he’s frustrated and he isn’t working hard, then I can support his being scratched from this game because sometimes even a good player needs a kick in the pants to get it going. The disheartening part of this for me isn’t so much that Leino was scratched, but that John Scott played tonight in his place. Sure, Ted Nolan didn’t have to work to get Scott motivated, but Scott also offers zero upside and very little edge going into a game other than his ability to go out there and hit people. His 5:16 on the ice was the least amongst all Sabres. The only way that his five minutes can be worth benching Leino is if Leino is just that dangerous to the team’s morale, and if that’s the case, then I’d rather send them both to Rochester and bring up someone young that can be part of the future of this team.
The Sabres next game pits them against the Senators yet again, picking up the backend of the home-and-home series from Ottawa Thursday night at 7:30.