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Wednesday, October 4th, 2006 - 10:37 AM << Return To Story Print StoryE-Mail StoryLetsGoSabres.com RSS Feed

Miller out-duels Ward for opening night victory
By Mark Zampogna, LGS Featured Columnist

Raleigh, NC (LGS) -- It's Post-Game with a twist. Mark Zampogna takes you through Buffalo's opening night victory in "LGS.com's The Power Play" ... A two-minute read on the good old hockey game!

To the Point::
Ryan Miller said this week that the Sabres put themselves in the situation of having to play up to lofty expectations. His advice? "Deal with it." In their 3-2 shootout win over the Hurricanes on Wednesday night, the Sabres need some fluky goals -- and one shootout beauty -- to overcome a slow start, a jacked-up opponent and too many mindless penalties. They deal with it to get one of the most anticipated seasons in their history off to a start that has something their logo does not: legs.

Entertainment Value:
mild | MEDIUM | hot | suicidal
This one heats up as it goes along but doesn't really live up to all the advance billing. Not much flow and almost no hard feelings.

Scary Good:
The Sabres kill off eight of nine Hurricane power plays.

Just Frightening:
The Sabres go 0-9 on their own.

How about Thomas Vanek, who went from Lindy Ruff's doghouse at the end of the playoffs to the penthouse alongside Danny Briere to start overtime, a big juicy bone thrown his way?

Ruff uses Vanek on the penalty kill, a surefire method the coach has employed over the years to instill defensive responsibility in young players. On first-period PKs, Vanek responds by jumping out to the right point to block a shot and lunging outside the Carolina line to break up a rush.

The kid is here to score goals, of course, and in the second, on the power play, he goes to the front of the net but just can't cash a dancing Max Afinogenov's rebound and just can't tip home a Jason Pominville pass. In OT, Vanek breaks in behind the defense, quickly pulls the puck to his forehand and fires for the five hole, only to be foiled by Cam Ward's flashing left pad. And in the shootout, Vanek tries to follow Briere's lead and beat Ward high to the blocker side on his backhand, but that pesky blocker gets in the way.

Perhaps his most noticeable play, though, is his hustling rush down the left wing early in the third period to draw a holding penalty on David Tanabe.

Thomas Vanek, the dangerous, hustling penalty killer.

Well, hello there.

Make that slugs, plural. Referees Don Koharski and Dan O'Rourke are looking the other way, WWF-style, when Justin Williams high-sticks Paul Gaustad around the right eye inside of 10 minutes to go in a tense, tied hockey game. If only the refs had been so clueless inside of 10 minutes to go in a tense, tied hockey game last June 1. Actually, let's give a little love to the refs for calling a close game and right off the get-go giving us faith that things won't be different in 06-07.

Fourth Star:
Jochen Hecht seems to be buzzing around the Hurricane net all night long on the penalty kill. My Three Stars: 1. Thomas Vanek 2. Ryan Miller 3. Eric Staal (Official stars at right.)

On the Hot Seat:
Danny Briere, with the weight of a Sopranos-style $5 million contract on his head, is quiet until the late going, his most noteworthy moment his holding penalty that short-circuited a Buffalo power play. But late in the third, the co-captain tees up a shot in the high slot only to miss the net.
Something stirs. In the dying seconds of overtime, Briere slips in and redirects the puck from five feet away only to see it bound off the body of Ward. The little guy is finding his game. Sure enough, in the shootout, Briere makes his best chance of the night count when he goes forehand backhand and buries the puck top shelf where grandpa hides the Hustlers.

Briere gets off the hot seat, but only barely.

Defining Moment:
Erik Cole has to score to extend the game. He's stopped by Ryan Miller, who's perfect in the shootout, and near-perfect in making 32 saves on the night. When Ryan starts staring at the ice in the shootout, Carolina has to know it's in trouble.

Turning Point:
The Sabres get themselves in penalty trouble in the second period, and on a two-man advantage, Erik Cole bunts a pass from Ray Whitney over the left shoulder of Ryan Miller to put the Canes up 2-1. Just two minutes later, Miller makes a glove save, and a scintillating one, when Kevyn Adams breaks in on a two-on-one. Moments after that, a loose thread on Chris Drury's sweater is credited with the tying goal after Derek Roy tips Henrik Tallinder's one-timer from the right point, and the captain, coasting in front of the Hurricane cage, simply gets in the way. It's a 2-2 hockey game.

The Big Click:
Jaroslav Spacek takes only seven minutes to work himself into the hearts of Buffalo hockey fans like he's performing a very personal cardiac catherization on them. The former Oiler drills a Cane in the right-wing corner of the Buffalo zone, spilling him to the ice. Don't call him Sissy.


• Wearing a dark blue suit and a light blue shirt, why did Lindy Ruff accessorize with a Carolina-red tie? Why not gold? Sorry, why not maize?

• Why did it take so long before someone thought to peel back the red carpet that was placed where the Canes were stepping onto the ice for their pregame introductions? About three of them nearly took a tumble onto the darkened ice.

• Could that banner have taken any longer to get up? Is there Viagra for banners?

• Did anyone else mistake Versus' little animated hockey player with the real thing? Silly little fairy.

• Is the Jiri Novotny CrotchCam really necessary?

The Fight Card:
Nobody dropped 'em.

Crunching the Numbers:

5 - Exactly how many years have passed since the dawn of the post-Hasek era

0 - Reasons to want to go back now

11 - Of the first 13 shots in the game, the number that belonged to Carolina

30 - Of the next 53, number that belonged to Buffalo

2-2 - Sabres' record in regular season debuts of new jerseys (won in Pittsburgh in the franchise's inaugural game in the original blue and gold in 1970, lost at Edmonton in the unveiling of the Demonic Goathead in 1996 and lost in Buffalo to Philly in the first game for the Butter Knives in

"I didn't know what I would do until I got there." --Danny Briere on his shootout goal

In the Buffalo Wings:
It's the home-opener at HSBC Arena as the Sabres play the Canadiens on Friday night.

By Mark Zampogna, LGS Featured Columnist << Return To Story Print StoryE-Mail StoryLetsGoSabres.com RSS Feed

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