Ah, how nice it is to be back for Better Live Than Dead! I have missed you all dearly!
The Buffalo Sabres were off to Minnesota to face off against the red-hot Wild and a white-hot Devan Dubnyk, whom has posted THREE shutouts in a row and is easily the hottest netminder in the league. Minnesota has been playing great hockey from top to bottom. With the new face of Eric Staal riding a four game point streak, and Ryan Suter chomping away minutes on the blue line, the Wild are clicking very well in a competitive western conference. The Sabres as of late seem to be finding their groove with the absences of Jack Eichel and Evander Kane by winning their last two games over Florida and Winnipeg. While allowing only a single goal in those matchups. Something’s gotta give, right?
First off, I would like to thank the AV guys at the Xcel Energy Center for opening with Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy.” Consider me pumped for their new album!
183:16. The end of Devan Dubnyk’s shutout streak. After some strong work around the offensive zone and a few bounces off some bodies and skates, Ryan O’Reilly swept the puck home with Dubnyk out of position at the top of his crease. This being result of good positioning and confident passing around the blue line put the Sabres up 1-0.
The Sabres opened tonight with a very strong performance from all four offensive lines. Even the line of Bailey, Grant, and Baptiste generated opportunities for Buffalo. Handcuffing the speedy Wild offense allowed Buffalo to come out on top after one by a score of 1-0. Shots on goal also favored the Sabres 9-6. During the first intermission, the Sabres took a blow to a defensive grouping that’s been looked at as questionable so far this season. Zack Bogosian went down with a knee injury and did not return.
It didn’t take long for the Wild to generate opportunities against the thinned defense of the Sabres. Charlie Coyle found himself moving very fluidly with the puck. But after a few huge saves by Robin Lehner, the Sabres still found themselves ahead of the Wild. Minnesota was carrying the momentum of this game throughout the Second due to the Bogosian injury.
It took over 36 minutes to find the first penalty of the game. Josh Gorges being the offender with a slash behind his own net, putting the Sabres down a man, and another defender. With 54 seconds left in the penalty Michael Grandlund took advantage of a rebound off Robin Lehner and chipped the puck home to tie it at one. Defensemen are important, you guys.
The Wild continued pressure through the final minute, but the second period soon after came to a close with the game tied at one a piece.
Struggling with puck control through the first portion of the third period, Buffalo earned a powerplay. Christoph Bertschy with a hook in the neutral zone. A few scrambles for the puck later, and we found ourselves watching 5-on-5 hockey.
After a bit of a snoozer through most of the 3rd, Buffalo broke the deadlock. Brian Gionta carried the puck down the right side boards and slung a pass in front of goal. That pass found Johan Larsson crashing the net and bounced off the shaft of his stick and into the net. That third line continues to produce with impressive numbers for the Sabres.
With 2 minutes remaining in the third, the Wild pulled Dubnyk for the extra attacker and pinned Buffalo deep in their own zone for nearly the full time. The Sabres stood their ground, and the clock hit midnight for the Wild. With the 2-1 victory, Buffalo earned some redemption against the Wild and the all-important two points in the standings.
Guess what, Sabres fans! Your favorite hockey team is OVER .500 for the first time since the lockout! First round is on you guys!
Always a pleasure writing for Better Live Than Dead! I’ll be back on the 7th when the Sabres head to the TD Garden to face the Bruins.
- Lehner Solid Again
Robin Lehner posted another excellent outing, while stopping 27 of 28 shots, including a huge save on Eric Staal in front of goal. This is the second straight game Lehner has allowed only one goal. Between those two games, that makes 64 of 66 shots stopped. While that’s clearly a tough percentage to keep up, it certainly looks promising for the young Swede. Barring any injuries, of course.
- Tyler Ennis of Old?
Tyler Ennis is finding his mojo. You can see the confidence and elusiveness in his skating, as well as his control with the puck. With 2 or 3 exceptions of overhandling the puck into a defensive wall, he played extremely well. Stretching out the defense with his speed is critical to his style of play. Now imagine a defense that will have to do that first against Eichel and then Tyler himself.
- Defensive Injuries
Bogosian goes down, and Buffalo found themselves down to five dressed defenders for exactly two-thirds of the night. It seems almost certain a call-up will be necessary for the Sabres. With a defensive core that has plenty of room for improvement, the necessity of bringing in two call-ups to dress seven may be needed. If that were to happen, Dan Bylsma will have to juggle the 4th line of Grant, Baptiste, and Bailey. All of which have been playing very well, so Buffalo may stick with six d-men regardless. Either way, decisions will be made for the Sabres on the blue line.
- Third Line Production
Who would have thought that this line of Foligno, Larsson, and Gionta would have this level of production. Larry with ANOTHER game-winning goal for Buffalo. That play started in the neutral zone, as Foligno and Gionta put pressure on the Minnesota forward whom was with the puck. A quick turnover, and bang. The Sabres 3rd line comes through for this team time and time again.