The night didn’t start off so smoothly for Buffalo as Winnipeg potted two quick goals on their first three shots early in the first period. Tallies from Mark Flood and Brian Little had the Sabres trailing by two goals early on. The fans let Miller know their displeasure with a mock cheer as Ryan stopped Winnipeg’s fourth shot on net, though only a few minutes later Buffalo would give the fans something legitimate to cheer for.
After a cross checking penalty sent Jets forward Nik Antropov to the box, Derek Roy tapped in a rebound off a Tyler Myers shot on the power play to get Buffalo back within one. On the very next shift, rookie forward Corey Tropp would bank in his first NHL goal, knocking in his own rebound off a centering feed from Nathan Gerbe.
The wild first period would continue as Tanner Glass would beat Ryan Miller to put Winnipeg up 3-2 at the midway point of the period. The Sabres would quickly respond with their first short-handed goal of the season, on a goal by Jason Pominville. The captain capped off a great play on a 2 on 1 with Paul Gaustad, Gaustad drew the defender to the outside, spun, and delivered a backhand strike right on Pominville’s blade for the easy tap in.
Both teams would trade power play goals in a much tighter checking second period. The Jets struck first in the third, on Dustin Byfuglien wrister that was the result of a neutral zone turnover, one of many on the night by the Sabres. Winnipeg held the lead for the better part of the period, but they began a parade to the penalty box just past the halfway point of the third which led to Derek Roy’s blistering one timer on a 5 on 3 power-play to knot the game and send it to overtime.
The undisciplined play continued for the Jets in OT as Blake Wheeler was called for hooking with 55 seconds left in the extra period. The Sabres capitalized on their 4 on 3 man advantage with a point shot from Pominville deflecting off of Vanek’s leg for the game winner with 25 seconds left. It was the fourth time Buffalo had lit the lamp with the man advantage in the game, going 4 for 12 (33.33%) overall.
The Sabres special teams continued to shine tonight. In addition to their powerplay prowess, they killed off 4 of 5 Winnipeg powerplays while scoring a shorthanded goal. They also outshot the Jets by a large margin, 45 shots to Winnipeg’s 31. Equally impressive was their dominance in the face-off circle, winning 50 draws to the Jets 25.
Derek Roy is starting to get hot, with a three point game tonight, and five in his last three games. The dynamic duo of Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville also continued their scoring streak, with Vanek picking up his 9th and 10th goals, and Jason Pominville his 6th goals and 10th and 11th assists of the season. Both players are tied for the team lead with 18 points.
The defense was a concern in this game, particularly early on where they played very turnover prone, mistake laden hockey. Three of the five Jets goals could be attributed to either neutral zone, or defensive zone turnovers. Something Lindy Ruff and his staff will hammer home to the team in the coming days.
Despite the defensive lapses, Ryan Miller did not put on a particularly strong showing. He did however earn the win, and make some key saves at critical moments late in the game. This was the kind of win Ryan needs to just take as a win, forget about the numbers, and build off the confidence he should get knowing he went out and played 60 minutes contributing in victory.
The Sabres are off the next two days with their next game at home against the Ottawa Senators on friday, followed up with a game in Boston on Saturday night. With a back to back coming up on the weekend, and Ryan’s less than stellar return to the nets tonight, one would guess Jhonas Enroth will earn a start in one of those two games.
I would be remiss not to mention the tremendous job the Buffalo Sabres organization did in honoring two of their greats with induction into the Sabres Hall of Fame tonight. The legendary Rick Jeanneret and former superstar Dale Hawerchuck were honored along with owner Terry Pegula prior to the puck drop. Jeanneret has been a staple in the announcers booth for the Sabres for over 40 years, and now in the twilight of his career it brought the crowd to their feet watching him receive his recognition, and entertain them with his usual candor and wit.
Hawerchuk is an NHL hall of famer who played five seasons in Buffalo from 1990-95. In the 1992-93 season he scored 16 goals along with 80 assists for 96 points in 81 games…and he did it as the second line center! In total Dale scored 385 points in 342 games as a Buffalo Sabre. Both he and Jenneret are very deserving of this honor, and Terry Pegula made sure once again that the Sabres come off looking like nothing less than a first class organization.