Oh, to be born in a hockey Mecca.
The Sabres have been pushing the this “City of Hockey” business on us all season. Detroit still claims to be “Hockeytown.” Still, what NHL city can make a game feel more important than Montreal? The atmosphere, the crowd, the intensity; everything about a home game against the Bleu, Blanc, and Rouge makes it feel like the biggest game of the season. As it turns out, Monday night may have been just that.
What a game for the Sabres, especially after the weekend they had. Two tough games against the Blackhawks and Rangers were followed by a traditional off day, but it’s hard to bring a full effort on a Monday night in the middle of four games in six nights. Yet in one of the busiest stretches of the season, Buffalo delivered once again.
Despite a fantastic performance from Andrei Kostitsyn, Buffalo once again overcame a whole mess of drama and won a game thanks to their special teams. Sekera’s goal came just after a penalty expired, and Patrick Kaleta’s shorthanded goal came thanks to some great work by Tim Connolly and the quick hands of a troublemaker.
I’ve said it a thousand times: this is the kind of game Patrick Kaleta can play every night, and I’m thrilled he has started doing it. He has the hands and the experience killing penalties to score goals and cause trouble, and he certainly can grind it out if he feels like it. These past two games have been the best of Kaleta’s career, and he just may have turned the corner, so to speak. That’s an exciting thought for a team that is very close to getting back their best grinder and faceoff man in Paul Gaustad.
However, Pat Kaleta wasn’t the whole story last night. Montreal didn’t make it easy, and the game wasn’t over even after a great go-ahead goal from Tim Kennedy thanks to solid work in front by a pinching Myers. Kostitsyn and the ever-present Cammalleri struck quickly, and for a few minutes the Sabres looked to be on the ropes for the first time all night. But Miller was there, and after a pair of penalties the Sabres finally went ahead for good after MacArthur juuuust slid it past Halak with just over six minutes to play.
And then there was Ryan Miller. His save with 19 seconds left effectively ended the game, but it was honestly more surprising that he let in the goals he did than that he made that save. No one in the game does a better job of positioning, especially on cross-ice passes and one timers. It didn’t matter how hot the shooter was last night, Miller wasn’t letting anything past him a second time and when it mattered most he was there.
Despite the best record in the Northeast and quite a few winning streaks, the Sabres have had plenty to prove this season. Fans want to be sure that it isn’t just the Ryan Miller show this year. Everyone knows that’s a program that has a limited run, and there have to be other players taking major roles for this season to have any potential. Vanek has been hit or miss, but very slowly we’re seeing different players make big differences. Myers has 18 points and a ton of ice time, Paul Gaustad has morphed into the Sabres’ best faceoff man, and Clarke MacArthur has actually played to his potential. The defense is scoring and getting more involved, the penalty kill has seen players like Kaleta fill in when injuries strike, and Tim Kennedy seems to pop up everywhere.
When all else fails, Ryan Miller is there. It’s only 31 games, but so far it has been a strangely successful formula for success. It hasn’t necessarily felt insanely successful, but after pulling out games like that in Montreal or Philadelphia or even against Calgary back in November, it’s hard to argue against it. Last night I said I wanted another six point week for the Sabres despite the busy schedule. So far they’re one for one.
I say bring on Ottawa.