Okay, one more time:
The scary thing is that it only took six white dots to make that happen. He really was that pale.
It only took fifteen seconds to decide whether the Sabres were willing to play hockey last night. The Sabres forechecked hard on a rookie defenseman, pinched to cause a turnover, and before you know it Goose makes a nice pass to Matt Ellis and it’s in. Suddenly it’s 1-0 and they are doing exactly what they need to do against a team like Ottawa.
Before the period is over it’s 2-0, with the Vanek/Roy/Stafford line making something out of nothing. Everyone involved makes a smart play, with Vanek waiting along the half-wall just long enough to attract two Senators and still get it out. Roy skates hard to get to the puck first, then has the vision necessary to realize he had no real chance, but a trailer is coming. He makes a nice pass to Stafford, who does his job by skating himself into the play and going hard to the net. It was a soft goal and a bit of luck, but it’s the kind of goal your best line deserves based on the effort.
The Sabres carried that play into the second, with that same line putting in a garbage goal. Think about the way both of those goals are scored by three of the most talented players on this team: hard work. For all the natural ability Roy, Vanek, and Stafford have; it was them giving that extra stride or taking the physical punishment in front of the net to make the plays and get these goals. You can say both goals are lucky, but that’s discounting a whole lot of effort given by a team that had been lacking a pulse for some time now.
So the Sabres have a three goal lead on a team that has only managed to score 87 goals on the season. Things are looking good until Ryan Miller goes out to lunch. I’m not sure what he was thinking about on the first Spezza goal, but it was probably something important like what color fedora to wear during his charity event. He still isn’t playing great hockey, and his positioning isn’t fantastic; but Miller would come up big later on when it really mattered.
Going into the third I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Sabres were going to lose this game. It was the feeling I had when they played Boston, and the same feeling I had on New Year’s Day. It’s a side effect of the hockey we’ve seen, and maybe we’ve gotten just a bit too used to this team losing leads. Perhaps I shouldn’t be happily surprised when they play a period of great defensive hockey, and if that’s the case then tonight is the kind of game that will help me shake that feeling.
The way the Sabres played in the third is what divides mediocre hockey teams from good hockey teams. We all know the Sabres currently have the status of a mediocre team. This isn’t awful, but it certainly isn’t satisfactory. They need their defense to improve, and they need to learn how to win close games. That’s what the Sabres did in the third period, despite their best defenseman sitting in the press box.
Give Miller credit here, he came up big when it mattered. In the end he made 31 saves, some of them fantastic, and he kept a one goal lead from turning into another point given away. The forwards did nice work along the boards as well, but Miller looked determined to keep that lead after those two goals he let in during the second.
Before you know it Vanek has the empty netter, and it’s all over. The Sabres did their job and beat a team they should beat every time. It wasn’t pretty, and it sure wasn’t without controversy; but good teams beat bad teams on home ice. After all the lost points we’ve seen over the past two years, you can’t complain about the final score, and you certainly can’t hate the effort.
This was another little step you wanted to see from a team that looks to be coming into its own. The Sabres are getting healthier, getting good work from its defense, and starting to see some consistent effort from the forwards. They may not have gained much ground in the standings, but games like these are the ones you forget about at season’s end. You only seem to remember the games you are supposed to win and don’t, not the points you expect and actually get.
No matter what we think about tonight, the Sabres sure better forget it fast. This was the easy part of the week, and if you saw the Rangers play on Monday, you know we’re in for a much better opponent come Friday night.