Well that was a fun couple of days, no? A 5-2 beat down of the Flyers followed by a near textbook road win against the Leafs and the Sabres have gotten off on the right foot for this shortened 2013 season.
Sunday’s opener was about as sloppy as expected, as the Sabres and Flyers plodded through forty minutes of fairly average hockey before the Sabres third period explosion put the game away. The one takeaway from that opener was seeing the rust on both teams. Even with a game under their belt from the day before, the Flyers still looked sluggish in many ways along with their hosts who were playing their first game of the season.
The Sabres did do plenty of things right, however. They engaged physically from the opening faceoff, scored the game’s first goal and maintained composure after falling behind in the second period. Drew Stafford’s unexpected fight was pointed to as the spark that drove the Sabres into the third period and their scoring surge in the final frame got the job done.
Defensively there was plenty to improve upon in front of a strong outing from Ryan Miller – who benefitted from two disallowed goals. Special teams was a bright spot as the powerplay was clicking and the penalty kill did great work outside of allowing Claude Giroux to wire a one-time home for Philly’s second goal of the game.
Rolling into their first back-to-back of the season right off the bat certainly wasn’t a preferable option for any team, but the Sabres were in the same boat as just about everyone who had to deal with an unorthodox opening weekend to this lockout-shortened season.
Monday’s victory was pretty much what is drawn up for road games – particularly on the second half of a back-to-back. The Sabres played a sound game, found the net first and buckled down. While the third period frenzy wasn’t a preferable way to end the game, the Sabres bore down and managed to escape with two more points and their record intact.
The top line of Jason Pominville, Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek took no time to gel and set the scoring standard for the Sabres. What will be needed moving forward will to find another set of forwards capable of producing at a regular clip.
As Vanek factored on all five goals on Sunday, the top line was involved again against the Leafs as they were in on both goals the Sabres scored. The real story, however, was Miller’s stellar evening at the Air Canada Centre. He turned aside 34 shots and was only beaten on a perfect carom to the back door where Nazem Kadri was waiting to deposit the goal.
For Miller, Tuesday and Wednesday will yield two deserved days off prior to their trip to Carolina. The home-and-home with the Canes will provide an interesting test for a Sabres team whose only glaring shortcoming has been on the blueline thus far.
Defensive struggles seem to be something that has been prevalent around the league as players shake out the cobwebs from the lockout. The Sabres, while only allowing three goals in two games, seem to be a bit disjointed in the defensive zone at this point. None of the top-six defensemen have stood out in a positive light and that is a situation that could deteriorate quickly if Ryan Miller or Jhonas Enroth aren’t playing at the top of their game.
Tuesday’s struggles at the face-off dot are another cause for concern. The Sabres have three young centers who aren’t face-off dynamos at this point in their careers. Unlike last season when Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad could be rolled out for draws, the Sabres only have Jochen Hecht as their go-to faceoff center. Steve Ott is a well-documented face-off man and would probably bring some stability to that part of the game. However, his center (Grigorenko) is actually holding his own in that right. Still, when in tight situations the Sabres will need someone who can be counted on more than 40% of the time.
Grigorenko Watch is two games old and the young pivot has yet to register a point. However, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been effective. He has been quiet with average ice time but I feel that his effectiveness may increase when Ville Leino returns to his wing. As silly as it may sound, Leino’s offensive upside is far more appealing than what Jochen Hecht is currently able to provide. Hopefully that helps to spark Grigorenko and cement his spot on the roster.
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but how many more disallowed goals do the Sabres have in the tank for this season? Getting four wiped out in two games is awfully nice but I’d hate to see all of the Hockey Gods’ good fortune exhausted in the first week of the year. That being said, I disagreed with the call against Fedotenko on Sunday but the others were ultimately the right call, no matter how silly the intent to blow rule may be.
The win against Philly was a great way to start off the season. Scoring early and often is a good way to erase any hard feelings fans might have harbored from the lockout. The Stafford fight has been referenced non-stop as an indication of Buffalo’s new attitude. I point to the ability to battle back from the ebb of surrendering the lead in the second and even holding on late against the Leafs. Those two situations might have gone differently with last season’s team.
Heading into Carolina, expect to see Jhonas Enroth once – perhaps at home on Friday? – and another pair of tight-checking games. The Cam Ward factor is always interesting too as he seems to save some of his best hockey for the Sabres.