Anatomy of an Upset

by Ryan

No team is perfect. No matter how many points you have or how good your reputation is, every team is beatable. It’s why the Patriots didn’t win the Super Bowl last season, and the Sabres didn’t win the Stanley Cup two seasons ago. The formula is easy: capitalize on the other team’s mistakes and limit your own.

This isn’t hard to figure out, but it’s important to remember because that’s exactly how the Sabres beat the best team in hockey on Saturday. Everything was stacked against the Sabres according to the statistics. Boston had won 14 straight home games and hadn’t allowed a power play goal in more than five games. They also have plenty of success against Buffalo recently, and the afternoon game was something Buffalo isn’t used to.

So the Sabres did what good teams do. They started fast and got a goal as a result of good work in front of the net. Matt Ellis goes out with Gaustad and Pominville, and suddenly Jason Pominville wants to do work. Give Lindy credit for putting guys together that were a bit unconventional, because the mash up made guys like Pominville and Kotalik work harder than they normally may have. Even on Ellis’ second goal it was Kotalik with the second effort that made it happen.

The important thing about Saturday’s win was that the Sabres overcame a lot of things to get the two points. Although they never trailed they had to deal with a load of pressure from Boston, including the always-deadly Marc Savard. You knew coming in that he would make things happen, and Kessel’s goal was a perfect example of this. However, the Sabres made it difficult for him to operate by working him hard on the wall and eliminating space every time he hit the ice.

Ryan Miller also helped to keep that lead, with some great saves at the most important of times. More importantly, he made the saves good goaltenders are supposed to make; the ordinary ones that he sometimes forgets about. Well, maybe not that Thornton goal, but there was some traffic on that one. Anyway, this team will rise and fall with Ryan Miller, and he still isn’t playing like he can and should be. However, games like this are important for both Miller and the team as a whole to gain confidence and start climbing the standings.

It’s funny to look back at Lindy Ruff’s comments about the “best player on our team” after a game like this, but Ellis’ performance doesn’t take away from what Ruff says. If Matt Ellis is scoring two goals you better have a half dozen players skating just as hard as he is. That’s what Buffalo had on Saturday, and that’s the kind of effort they should be capable of every night.

Despite the fact that Kessel beat Miller again, despite the short bench, and despite the fact that Boston gave them everything they had, the Sabres held a 4-2 lead for almost half the game. No collapse, no bad luck, and no extra points given up. They played the kind of hockey we should see every night and got the win against the (former) best team in hockey.

In a season filled with such up and down play it seems like a good string of games should be counted as baby steps towards finally getting it together. You have to try not to get too upset about the losses and too excited about the wins. However, with an opponent like Boston and the run they were on, this should be considered a big step. In the standings it’s only two points, but it should mean to this team that they can easily beat a poor Ottawa team, and that they are just as good as the Rangers. It should also mean that the Red Wings game on Saturday isn’t impossible, because any team can be beaten if the effort is there.

It’s just one little baby step, but it should make the next few stones appear well within reach.