Thought of the Night
When the Buffalo Sabres traveled to Boston today to take on the Bruins, they were facing the hottest team in the NHL. The Bruins were riding a 10-game winning streak and sitting atop the Eastern Conference with 62 points, 21 more than the Sabres. After Saturday's game, though, it is safe to say that the Sabres were up to the task. The Sabres beat the Bruins 4-2 in a game that featured a breakout performance from Matt Ellis, who tallied two goals and assisted on Paul Gaustad's goal in the second period. Buffalo also got a strong performance from Ryan Miller, who stopped 29 shots and made a few dazzling saves to hold the Bruins in check. The Sabres needed a performance like this to spark them and set the tone for the rest of the season. They had a great game against Toronto on New Year's Day and this was a great follow-up performance. They spend most of January on the road, so hopefully this isn't the last great road game we see this month.
mild | MEDIUM | hot | suicidal
It was a good game to watch, although the third period was rather dry. Buffalo played a more defensive style and neither team managed to score a goal in the final frame. But the first two periods featured six goals, four from Buffalo, and plenty of offensive hockey. One of the more entertaining aspects of the game was Ryan Miller, who made some amazing saves that looked like Dominik Hasek was back in net. And it was worth watching to see Ellis go for the hat trick. He had a few decent chances at it, but came up short. This was an all-around performance and it was a game that was worth watching from start to finish.
Ryan Miller. Miller showed up to play today. He played well against Toronto and was very close to earning a shutout in that game. Today he allowed a power play goal to Phil Kessel, who is one of the hottest players in the league, and a screen shot goal to Shawn Thornton in the second. Those aren't bad goals to give up. But it was his saves that are worth talking about. He made a sprawling save and then made a glove save laying flat on the ice. He stopped all 11 of Boston's shots in the third and was one of the keys to victory for Buffalo today.
The Buffalo Sabres. Why are they slugs? For one reason: They took two bench minors for too many men on the ice today. Mistakes happen, but not twice a game. There are some penalties that you can't do anything about. Sometimes you can get called for hooking when it wasn't even close or you can get called for another penalty that was borderline. Penalities like too many men on the ice and delay of game are penalties you can control. Again, mistakes happen. But you don't want to give up two easy penalties like too many men on the ice to a team like Boston. They will take advantage of those mistakes if you keep making them.
The Fourth Star
Jason Pominville. In the two games played so far in 2009, Pominville has two goals and two assists. He got his two assists today against Boston. He played well with Matt Ellis and Paul Gaustad. That line produced three of the four goals today. Pominville assisted on Ellis' first goal and also assisted on Thomas Vanek's power play goal in the first. Pominville has 13 points in the last 13 games, scoring four goals and contributing nine assists during that span. He was a presence tonight and earned his playing time today. He recorded 20:06 of ice time and was a leader for this team today.
Matt Ellis. Who would have thought that I would be writing about Matt Ellis in this space when the season began? For some perspective on how big this game was for Ellis, consider his career statistics: In 84 career games prior to today's game in Boston, Ellis had scored four goals and had five career assists. With his two goal performance today, Ellis has already set a career high for goals in a season (he now has three for the year) and his assist on Paul Gaustad's goal put the game away. Ellis has played very well since his last call up on December 19 and has shown that he can be a solid contributor to this team. With a few players on this team who are very inconsistent, it is good to have someone like Ellis who is willing to pour his heart out for the team.
Andrej Sekera - Jaroslav Spacek. This pair has had their moments this season. They have played well at times and they have struggled other times. But today they put together a solid outing together. Sekera had 22:54 of ice time, while Spacek had 21:43 of ice time to lead all Sabres defensemen. Sekera and Spacek both had a +2 plus/minus rating and Sekera's point shot was deflected in by Paul Gaustad in the second period. This pairing could be Buffalo's top defense pair if they can play consistently at a top level. If they play the rest of the season like they did today, these two will be leading the way for the Sabres defense corps.
Key Moment of the Game
The third period. The Sabres were outshot in the third period 11-2, but still managed to win 4-2. They had blown leads before because of not protecting leads in the third period and they didn't let that happen today. Ryan Miller played strong in net, stopping all 11 shots. While the Sabres offense didn't show up in the third, the forwards played well in their own zone and everyone put in the effort to protect the lead. That is what has been lacking the past, but against a great team like Boston, you can't sit back and relax. Everyone showed up to play in the third to make sure that this was going to be a victory for the Sabres.
On the Hot Seat
Clarke MacArthur. MacArthur didn't get a lot of playing time today and considering Lindy Ruff said that players would be rewarded with playing time based on their effort, that doesn't say a lot about MacArthur's performance today. He only received 6:35 of ice time and was a non-factor in this game. With many of the Sabres forwards playing better than they have all season and a few prospects waiting in Portland, MacArthur might want to put in more of an effort so that he doesn't end up in the press box again.
Most Improved Player From Game to Game
Jochen Hecht. Hecht received a wake-up call in Toronto on New Year's Day. He played 12:53 in Toronto and that was despite sitting out most of the first period. But Hecht put in more of an effort today. He recorded 21:51 of ice time and while he didn't contribute anything on the scoresheet, he did play well on the penalty kill and played well even strength. He needs to be one of the Sabres better players and he hasn't been this year. Hopefully that wake-up call is just what he needed.
Hit/Fight of the Night
No fights in this one, but Gaustad did have a few nice hits. Adam Mair was also active today. This was a more wide open game and hitting wasn't seen throughout. But the usual suspects - Gaustad and Mair - were at it again.
The Burning Question
Will the victory today be the official turning point for the Sabres season? Will this be the game that, when we look back on this season, we can highlight as the one that turned things around for the Sabres? It could be. This was not a soft opponent Buffalo beat today. They beat arguably the best team in the NHL. Whether they use that as motivation moving forward we will have to wait and see.
Stat of the Game
2 - Number of goals Matt Ellis scored today, which was his previous high for goals scored in a season. He now has three goals on the season with Buffalo, a new career high.
Stat Line of the Night
Matt Ellis: Ice time: 9:51, 2 goals, 1 assist, +3 plus/minus rating, three shots on goal
Line of the Night
Matt Ellis - Paul Gaustad - Jason Pominville. This line is an odd trio. Ellis has been more of a fourth-line player during his short career, while Gaustad has been a second line forward for most of his career. Jason Pominville is one of the Sabres top forwards and consistently plays on the top line. So when you mix these three together, you don't really expect them to score three goals as a line. Ellis tallied two today and Gaustad added one, with Pominville adding an assist on one of Ellis' goals and another assist on the power play. I don't know if this line has a long-term future, but I would stick with it for the next few games. These are hardworking players and they each offers something the other doesn't.
In the Buffalo Wings
The Sabres return home on Tuesday to face the Ottawa Senators. Buffalo will also play host to the New York Rangers on Friday before traveling to Detroit on Saturday to face the Red Wings.