Thought of the Night
The Buffalo Sabres couldn't have asked for a better home game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. The Sabres entered this month 10-9-2 at home, a very mediocre record for a team in playoff contention. But with only three games at home in January, the Sabres made the most of their opportunities at HSBC Arena. The Sabres have spent most of January on the road and will spend the rest of January on the road after last night's 3-1 victory over Carolina. But the three games they played at home were all wins. On January 6, the Sabres beat Ottawa 4-2 and on January 9, the Sabres beat the New York Rangers 2-1 in a shootout. Winning all three games at home this month was important. As we have seen this week, winning games on the road is not an easy task. The Sabres were dominated by the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday in a 4-1 loss and the Sabres had to come back from a three goal deficit to beat the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Anytime you can win a home game, you need to take advantage of that opportunity. The Sabres did that Saturday night.
mild | MEDIUM | hot | suicidal
This game didn't have a lot of scoring (only four combined goals) but Tim Connolly scoring two goals certainly was a great highlight from last night's game. The big story though was Ryan Miller's 36 save performance. He was stellar in net and made several key saves in the third period. There were a few fancy moves too, including Derek Roy's drag-through move in the third period that almost resulted in a goal. When the Sabres did score, all three goals were excellent goals. If the Sabres make the playoffs, these are the types of games they need to win. Carolina is fighting for a playoff spot too, so when you can win against a desperate team like the Hurricanes, it is very good for your long-term prospects.
Ryan Miller. Miller had a tough night Thursday, allowing four goals in regulation to the Dallas Stars. He recovered in the shootout, but whenever a goalie allows four goals, they will remember that. Miller played stellar last night against Carolina. He was a bouncing puck away from a shutout and stopped 36 shots. He made some great saves, including 18 stops in the third period. He is having an outstanding season thus far and if he keeps playing like he is, the Sabres will make the playoffs and contend in the playoffs. Many experts say Miller is an "All-World" goaltender. He has that kind of ability. He just needs to show that on a game-by-game basis.
Rod Brind'Amour. There is a lot you could say about Brind'Amour's plus-minus rating this season. Before playing the Sabres, Brind'Amour's plus/minus rating was -27 - tied for the league's worst plus/minus rating with New York Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt. After last night's game, Brind'Amour now has a -29 plus/minus rating. Brind'Amour has had minus ratings at different points of his career, including three of his first four seasons in Carolina. But since 2003-04, his combined plus/minus rating for those four seasons was +15. It is hard to explain why he is having such a lackluster plus/minus season this year.
The Fourth Star
Thomas Vanek. Vanek's goal scoring drought was extended to five games, but he did record two assists and had a +2 plus/minus rating. Both of his assists came on goals scored by Tim Connolly, which is a good sign for Vanek. Being combined with Connolly could create more scoring chances for him and take some of the attention from his direction and onto Connolly, who is a tremendous stickhandling center. Vanek had a strong game last night and it was a performance he needed to have. If he's not going to score goals, he needs to create opportunities and make plays for the Sabres. He did that last night.
Tim Connolly. When Connolly was recovering from a broken rib, a lot of people complained about Connolly's durability and how often he has been injured, especially during the last few seasons. But when Connolly is healthy, he can be a great player. He scored two goals against Carolina, including a nasty wrist shot that beat Cam Ward in the second period. He also deflected a Toni Lydman point shot in the first period to get the Sabres on the scoreboard. Connolly's five shots on goal led the Sabres and he also had a +2 plus/minus rating. If he can stay healthy, he will be a key player down the stretch for the Sabres. Hopefully he can stay in one piece.
Teppo Numminen. Numminen got hurt, which will be a tough loss for this team. But his goal should be an example of what the rest of the defensemen should do. If you throw the puck to the net, good things can happen. In Numminen's case, he scored. It wasn't a big slap shot. All it took was a simple wrist shot from the point that got through and beat Cam Ward. His playing time was limited because he got hit in the face with a puck, but his goal was key. It ended up being the game-winning goal.
Key Moment of the Game
Ryan Miller's third period. Miller had one squeak by him early in the third period, but he wasn't going to let anything get by him for the rest of the period. With the Sabres up 3-1, Miller stopped 18 of 19 shots and preserved the victory for the Sabres. That performance is even more impressive when you consider the Hurricanes played the final 2:48 of the game with an empty net. A lot of fans say that Miller needs to steal more games for the Sabres. I don't know if he necessarily stole this one, but with all of the chances Carolina had in the third period, he certainly was a very important contributor to this victory.
On the Hot Seat
Nathan Paetsch. With injuries to Teppo Numminen and Andrej Sekera, it looks like Paetsch will get a chance to play. There has been plenty of speculation about what the Sabres will do with Paetsch, but right now, he needs to play. If Paetsch can't live up to the task, there are defensemen down in Portland itching to play with the Sabres. It is up to Paetsch. He can prove he belongs in the NHL or he can be average. Being average won't keep you in the NHL, especially with defensemen waiting in the minors.
Most Improved Player From Game to Game
Tim Connolly. Connolly has played fairly well since returning from injury, but none of his performances matched his game against Carolina. Scoring two goals isn't something Connolly does often. It was only the third multi-goal game of his career and his two goals last night matched his total for the season entering the game against the Hurricanes. He has the potential to be one of this team's best players. But he can only reach that potential if he stays healthy. Injuries have plagued him. Staying healthy needs to be a priority for him.
Hit/Fight of the Night
This game wasn't too physical. There were seven minor penalties called, including five against the Sabres. Even though Carolina coach Paul Maurice wanted his team to play physical, they didn't. The Sabres have learned that you need to play physical at times to win. Carolina needs to learn that same lesson.
The Burning Question
We won't see the Sabres at HSBC Arena until February 4. The Sabres play six games on the road. At the end of this road trip, will they still be a playoff contender? They do play against plenty of great opponents on this road trip. They have a lot to prove (and a lot to lose) in Florida and out west.
Stat of the Game
4 - Number of goals the Sabres allowed in their three games at home in January. They allowed two goals to the Senators, one to the Rangers and one to the Hurricanes.
Stat Line of the Night
Tim Connolly: Ice time: 17:22, 2 goals, +2 plus/minus rating, five shots on goal
Line of the Night
Jochen Hecht - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville. This line produced another goal, although it was Teppo Numminen who scored it for them. Roy and Pominville got the assists, but Hecht made a key play along the boards to set it up. These three have a lot to offer each other and will help the Sabres if they can stick together. Hecht and Pominville need that strong presence in the center to make them better players. That is what Derek Roy gives them.
In the Buffalo Wings
The Sabres will make their final swing through Florida this season when they play the Florida Panthers on Monday and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. Then the Sabres will get five days off for the All-Star break before heading out west to take on the Edmonton Oilers Jan. 27.