Thought of the Night
The Buffalo Sabres have proven over the last few nights that they can play with and beat the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Last night was no exception. The Sabres played well against the Montreal Canadiens but when they did make a mistake, Montreal capitalized on those mistakes. Montreal won 3-2 and scored all three goals in the second period. The deciding goal by Andrei Markow was the worst of them all. The Sabres played that 4-on-4 like they were short-handed. They sat back and let Montreal dominate play in the Sabres' defensive zone. That was ultimately the deciding mistake in this game. If it wasn't for that, this game probably would have gone into overtime and the Sabres would have earned at least one point for their efforts. Instead, the Sabres lost again in Montreal.
mild | MEDIUM | hot | suicidal
This divisional battle featured plenty of action, hitting, great saves and great goals. The ending was full of suspense as the Sabres put together some golden opportunities to tie the game in the final minutes. Montreal is a strong team and they like to open things up and use their transition game. They also have a very mobile group of defensemen like Andrei Markov, who is to Montreal as Brian Campbell was to the Sabres. The Sabres play great on the road, but couldn't come up with that third goal to tie the game. This was a fun one to watch. If only all NHL games could be that way.
Thomas Vanek. The question is this: Can Thomas Vanek score 50? With 18 goals through 23 games, he certainly is on pace to do just that. He scored both goals for the Sabres and was all over the ice. He played well on the penalty kill, where he played well earlier in the season before taking a back seat to others on the shorthanded units. He is a superstar and anytime you can have him on the ice, you want him on the ice.
Maxim Afinogenov. Afinogenov has to quit giving the puck away when there is no need to give it away. He has four other teammates out there with him so turning the puck over as much as Afinogenov does should not be happening. If he wants to stay in Buffalo, he isn't showing. He has shown flashes of brilliance this season but almost always reverts back to his old ways of trying to do too much.
The Fourth Star
Patrick Lalime. All three goals Montreal scored were legitimate goals that Lalime could do very little about. The Markov goal will sting because Lalime's teammates didn't do much in front of him to prevent that from happening. Lalime needs to play in order to give Ryan Miller a much-needed rest and to provide a change of pace for other teams. Lalime could be a number one goaltender with plenty of teams in the NHL, so we should use him more than we have this season. I could see Lalime playing 15 to 20 games this year, allowing Miller to have more efficient starts.
Andrei Kostitsyn. Kostitsyn is a great talent who contributes a lot to this Montreal Canadiens team. Kostitsyn scored a goal and added an assist last night. He was one of the key players on the ice for the game-winning goal and was all over the ice last night. He recorded three shots on goal and had a +2 plus/minus rating. He is a consistent performer for Montreal and one of the reasons why this team is one of the best teams in the league.
Toni Lydman. Lydman has been consistent and steady this year for the Sabres. Case in point: When the Sabres were short-handed for two minutes, Lydman blocked a few shots and proved he is one of the best penalty killers on this team. He won't give you much in the offensive end, but he is solid in his own zone and is willing to throw his body around for the team.
Key Moment of the Game
The 4 on 4 in the second period. Andrei Markov ended up scoring the winning goal on the 4 on 4, which was disappointing because of the way Buffalo was treating the 4 on 4. If you had just turned on the game, you would have thought Montreal had a power play. I was looking for the fifth player on the ice for Montreal, but of course, he wasn't there. Montreal took advantage of a very conservative approach by Buffalo and scored the eventual game-winning goal.
On the Hot Seat
Daniel Paille. Earlier in the season, I didn't think I would be saying this. Paille was showing us he was one of the better forwards the Sabres had and he showed he had a real role with this team and could contribute. Paille has scored two goals and added six assists this season. However, his last goal came on Nov. 1 against Washington and in his last 10 games, Paille only has two assists. Paille's ice time has started to decline as a result of that and he will need to pick up his play, especially with very talented prospects waiting in the wings.
Most Improved Player From Game to Game
Drew Stafford. Stafford had a great game against Pittsburgh Friday night, but Stafford deserves recognition for his consistent play over the last few games. He has performed well and performed very well last night against Montreal. He assisted on Vanek's second goal and made some strong plays in the offensive zone to create scoring chances for Buffalo. If he can continue playing like this, all of those whispers that started about possibly getting rid of Stafford will go away.
Hit/Fight of the Night
Derek Roy and Kostitsyn in open ice. I don't know who got the worst of it, but it was a great open-ice hit nonetheless. Roy got caught looking too far ahead and Kostitsyn caught him off guard. Roy is lucky. A more opportunistic hitter might have labeled him harder.
The Burning Question
With two big wins over top Eastern Conference foes and a good game against Montreal, can the Sabres continue this play and compete with the best in the East? If the answer is yes, the Sabres are a top playoff team. If the answer is no, the Sabres are on the outside looking in.
Stat of the Game
36-25 – Number of faceoffs won by Montreal compared to faceoffs won by Buffalo.
Stat Line of the Night
Thomas Vanek: 19:29 of ice time, 2 goals, +1 plus/minus rating, four shots on goal
Line of the Night
Thomas Vanek-Derek Roy-Drew Stafford. This line played very well and contributed plenty of scoring opportunities, including one goal in the second period. Vanek is the star of this group, with 17 goals and 23 points. Derek Roy is the center who plays on the power play and penalty kill units. Stafford is the young player who is still growing. Stafford can be a top-line player in this league. He is playing on the right line if that's what he wants to be.
In the Buffalo Wings
The Sabres return to Buffalo on Monday to face the Nashville Predators. After the game, the Sabres will head to Florida to play the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Sabres will then come back north to play Pittsburgh.