Thought of the Night
Either team could have won this game. The Buffalo Sabres played well enough to win, but they did not finish some golden opportunities they had to put the game away. The Toronto Maple Leafs just had that one lucky bounce that was enough to do the Sabres in. Ian White's wrist shot that took an odd bounce off the ice and beat Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was reminiscent of Joe Corvo's shot that helped Ottawa beat Buffalo in an Eastern Conference Finals matchup at HSBC Arena two seasons ago. Sometimes those bounces can ruin a great game and that's exactly what happened last night. Miller admitted that he should have gotten in front of it, but by no means was that his fault. It was a tough break on a night where the Sabres played a strong game. They just lacked the finishing touch on a few shots that could have led to a different outcome.
mild | MEDIUM | hot | suicidal
Whenever Toronto comes to town, it is an exciting game. Last night was no exception. It wasn't a high scoring affair, but both goaltenders played very well and it had a playoff-like feel to it. The Leafs were well represented in HSBC Arena, as per usual when the Leafs come to town. The game was a close one the whole way, including at the end when the Sabres made a frantic attempt to come back. The goal scoring was spread out, so when goals were scored, you really had to savor them.
Paul Gaustad. Gaustad won't light the lamp like Thomas Vanek and he isn't a top line forward like Derek Roy and Jason Pominville, but he does offer something this team doesn't have a lot of: Size. In the second period, he took on several Toronto Maple Leafs in a battle for the puck along the boards. That is what Gaustad brings to this team. He is also the team's top faceoff man and he is a key player on this team. Again, he's not going to light up the scoresheet for you, but he will win key battles along the boards and be a strong penalty killer for you. Those attributes are just as important and necessary as goal scoring and playmaking.
Buffalo Sabres. In the last 10 home games, the Sabres are 4-5-1. While they did win Wednesday night against Tampa Bay, the Sabres went back to their old ways. The Sabres haven't fared any worse at home than on the road, but it would be nice to see the best from this team at home and for them to defend home ice. They haven't done that consistently this season. They had plenty of opportunities to win last night's game but failed to capitalize. Toronto didn't play any better. The Sabres should have won.
The Fourth Star
Vesa Toskala. Toskala has been playing a lot better lately thanks to a more defensive approach by Toronto. Earlier in the season, Toskala would give up three, four, five and six goals per game on a regular basis. Lately, he has had a lot more games with only one or two goals allowed. He stopped 24 shots last night and only allowed a goal to Toni Lydman in the first period. After that, he played tough and made key saves when he needed. He also got a little luck along the way (i.e. Stafford's miss on the open net).
Jason Pominville. Pominville didn't score, but he had a team-high six shots on goal. He also had two shots on the power play that missed the net completely. He wasn't short on chances last night and it would have helped if one or two of those went in the net. Pominville got a lot of ice time - again - as he played 22:54. He wasn't the only Sabres forward to get over 20 minutes of ice time last night, but he has consistently received that kind of playing time all season.
Toni Lydman. Lydman is recognized more for his hitting and for blocking shots, but he does have an underutilized offensive prowess. He can make plays in the offensive end and he showed that when he jumped into the play and scored his first goal of the season. He has been one of the better Sabres defensemen all season long and is a key part of the blueline. It was good to see him rewarded with a goal last night. He needed that.
Key Moment of the Game
Stempniak's four minute high sticking penalty. It was tied at one late in the second period when Lee Stempniak took a high sticking penalty after hitting Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera right in the face. The penalty spilled over into the third and allowed the Sabres to open the first 3:50 of the third period on the power play. Unfortunately, Buffalo couldn't capitalize on that golden opportunity. That penalty kill gave the Leafs some momentum and the Leafs ended up winning the game.
On the Hot Seat
Maxim Afinogenov. This will be the ultimate case for trading Maxim Afinogenov. This was another game where Afinogenov played under 10 minutes and did virtually nothing. Here are the facts: Afinogenov's last goal came on Nov. 7 against Atlanta. After recording seven assists in the month of October, Afinogenov only has one goal and two assists since Nov. 1. To put that in perspective, he has three points in 16 games. He also has a team-worst -12 plus/minus rating. It is time to get rid of him. Send him somewhere so that he can start anew. He obviously can't help this team. Trade him now.
Most Improved Player From Game to Game
Nathan Gerbe. He has gotten better game after game. He was a little nervous in his home debut Wednesday, but he came back with a strong effort in his first Sabres-Leafs showdown. He didn't score, but he did have a +1 plus/minus rating. Even though he doesn't have a lot of games under his belt, he leads the Sabres in plus/minus with a +3. He has great speed and is very strong for someone of his stature.
Hit/Fight of the Night
No fights, but I did enjoy Paul Gaustad dumping Tomas Kaberle to the ice in the third period. It wasn't a huge hit, but I have never liked Kaberle and got a level of enjoyment out of him falling to the ice.
The Burning Question
It was a tough loss for the Sabres last night. Can they recover to knock off New Jersey tonight at the Prudential Center?
Stat of the Game
6 – Including last night's contest against Toronto, the Sabres have only had six games this year where they have won the faceoff battle against their opponent. In those six games, the Sabres are 2-3-1 with their only wins coming against Montreal in the season opener and against St. Louis on Nov. 12.
Stat Line of the Night
Toni Lydman: 18:11 of ice time, 1 goal, +1, one shot on goal, 2 PIM
Line of the Night
Thomas Vanek - Jochen Hecht - Jason Pominville. It is hard to go against this line when they are being very productive. They were on the ice for one of the Toronto goals, but they all are putting in over 20 minutes of ice time in recent games. You have three very strong forwards in this group, including your best forward and two of your better penalty killers. That's not a bad trio to have on the ice at the same time.
In the Buffalo Wings
The Sabres will take on the New Jersey Devils tonight in New Jersey before returning home on Wednesday to play the Devils at HSBC Arena. The Sabres then play host to the Los Angeles Kings on Friday and then travel north of the border to Montreal to play the Canadiens next Saturday.