Quarter-Season Power Play — Games 21-41
The Big Picture
I summarized the first quarter of the season by describing the Sabres as a team that was "finding itself," one that was looking more and more like it could be dangerous come playoff time — with the asterisk that they were no lock to make the postseason.
The process of self-discovery seemed to only intensify in the second quarter, and not in a good way — the Sabres turned into Sybil on skates. The quarter featured more than a few mood swings: the fourth and fifth wins in a row and four losses in six games to start it, and streaks of six wins and seven losses to close it out.
Ryan Miller called the second slump a "plateau," implying the Sabres were on a gradual, modest incline. But as the season reached its halfway point, the Sabres were exactly what they had been after 20 games: an inconsistent .500 team several points out of a playoff spot.
mild | MEDIUM? | HOT? | suicidal
The Sabres ran up the score on the Canes and Sharks, but the red light eventually wore out. They swept the Flyers before Christmas but lost pairs of games to the Senators, Devils and Penguins after that. And although the Ice Bowl was a great time, it ended with Buffalo playing the antagonist in an NHL script again. Even the entertainment meter couldn't figure out what it wanted to be.
Goal of the Quarter
Thomas Vanek tips Jochen Hecht's shot past Marty Biron with 7.2 seconds to go in Philadelphia to tie the game. Honorable mention: Against Lee Stempniak and the Blues, Jason Pominville goes to the net, puts his stick between his legs and behind his right skate, takes a pass — and scores!
Hit of the Quarter
In Game 39 against the Sens, Anton Volkenchov destroys a rushing Daniel Paille, putting number 20 out of the lineup for two games. Honorable mention: Jaroslav Spacek drops Danny Briere along the glass in the Buffalo zone, bringing cheers at HSBC Arena that were half pro-Sabres and half anti-Briere.
Save of the Quarter
Late in the third period against the Hawks, Ryan Miller uses a whipping stick to stone Tuomo Rutuu from point-blank range and keep the Sabres in the lead. Honorable mention: Another stick save and a beauty in Buffalo as Martin Biron dives through the air and gets the paddle of his stick on Paul Gaustad's certain goal.
Ryan Miller grabbed the spotlight from Patrick Kane, stole a win with 42 saves on Long Island and played extremely well in the first shootout loss in New Jersey. True to his reputation as a clutch goaltender, Miller stared down all three Flyers in Philadelphia as the Sabres won in their first shootout of the season.
Ryan Miller was lit up in LA, sulked to the lockerroom after being yanked at home against Ottawa in Game 39 and allowed one of the weakest goals of his career against Atlanta from behind the net. Contrary to his reputation, Miller allowed five goals on eight shootout shots against New Jersey twice and Pittsburgh.
No Sabre really earned the hero's mantle, but countless workers, from the guys who wrestled the wind-driven tarp to Commissioner Gary Bettman, did. Combined with 71,217 fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium and over 10,000 more inside HSBC Arena, they gave Buffalo a hockey game it will never forget.
The Sabres' defense. A fish rots from head down, they say, but the Sabres are decomposing from the back end out with inexcusable turnovers and poor passes on virtually every shift. Dishonorable mention: Harry Neale. How many times will Neale award the opponent a win with two, six, 16 minutes to go before Rick Jeanneret slings his suspenders around his partner's neck and pushes him over the edge, to hang like Benito Mussolini?
PPP Three Stars
- Ales Kotalik (9-4-13, 3 SO goals in 4 tries). Al was clutch, even winning a faceoff to set up the tying goal in Philly.
- Jochen Hecht (9-6-15). Had a hand in a third-period goal four times in six games in December. Who else, who else?
- Ryan Miller (2.48 GAA, .910 SV%). Best Sabre during the losing streak despite a withering work load and almost no offensive support.
The Fourth Star
Jaroslav Spacek (4-8-12). Don't mistake Spacek's demotion from first-quarter Superhero to second-quarter Fourth Star as an indication of a dropoff in play. Spacek continued to be Buffalo's toughest and most dependable blueliner. Spacek played all 21 games, logged in the mid to upper 20s in ice time and put together a performance at home against the Flyers that Lindy Ruff called his best as a Sabre.
In Game 41 at New Jersey, Tim Connolly dicks with the puck in the high slot, passes up a chance to shoot and loses it to Zach Parise, who carries it to the side wall and slips it into the New Jersey neutral zone. Toni Lydman takes out Parise along the wall and is called for interference. On the ensuing power play, Andrew Greene is uncovered on left wing and beats Ryan Miller, who's slow to get across. Breakdown, breakdown, breakdown, breakdown. Offense, defense, special teams and goaltending.
The Sabres' six-game winning streak had ended two nights earlier in Buffalo against the Senators. No problem. The next game, at New Jersey, the Sabres are 6:23 away from a new winning streak and Ryan Miller is that much time away from a rare shutout. Colin White ties the game, and the Sabres fall in a shootout. The losing streak is on.
On the Hot Seat: Thomas Vanek
With the writers still on strike, this one's a repeat from the first quarter report.
The Burning Question
Will the real Buffalo Sabres please stand up, please stand up, please stand up?
Crunching the Numbers
21 - Seconds it took Sidney Crosby to ice the Sabres
155 - Seconds it took Pat Kane
0 - Shots allowed during the second period of the Ice Bowl
3 - Wins for the Penguins after January 1
3 - Losses for the Sabres
5 - Games without a win for the Oilers after losing the Heritage Classic
0 - Goals Jocelyn Thibault allowed in Montreal in 60 minutes
6 - In 48 minutes against LA and Ottawa
1 - Shorthanded goal allowed in the first 33 games
2 - In 55 seconds at Philadelphia in Game 34
1 - Shot off Thomas Vanek's helmet on Long Island
1 - Off Martin Gerber's mask in Buffalo
1 - Stick into Thibault's nose, breaking it
6 - Power-play goals allowed on nine times shorthanded to start the Western road trip
9 - On the other 76 times shorthanded in the quarter
19.4% - Power-play success rate for the first 15 games of the quarter
5.3% - For the last six
6 - Vanek goals in the first 14 games
1 - In the last seven
16 - Number of personalities Sybil actually had
1 - Reason to love Wikipedia
"We are playing our system well."
—Brian Campbell after the first game of the quarter, an impressive 3-0 win in Montreal
"It seems like we're making junior or rookie mistakes that as a group you can't do if you want to win."
—Adam Mair after the last game of the quarter, another frustrating shootout loss to the Devils
In the Buffalo Wings
To start the next quarter, the Sabres play nine of 11 games on the road, including a seven-game trip that's the longest in team history. The trip will tell a lot about whether the team that made the conference finals the last two years will even make the playoffs this time around. Once the Sabres come home, for an inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy letdown game against the Devils in Game 53, it's six of nine at home, where the Sabres seem to enjoy very little advantage any more. Throughout, the Sabres play long-lost division rival Toronto three times and Chris Drury and the Rangers twice, both at MSG. And — are you ready, legion of gloom? — here come two more games against the Devils!