Sabres Impressive In Victory, Injury Spoils Celebration

Posted on October 14, 2009 by Will Eldredge
If Buffalo Sabres fans’ prayers are answered, this will be the victory that will establish the Sabres as a top contender in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo dominated the Detroit Red Wings for the entire game Tuesday night, outshooting the Stanley Cup Finalists 38-28 and 18-4 in the second period, en route to a 6-2 victory.
 The Sabres utilized the same style of surgical puck possession that carried this same Detroit team to consecutive Stanley Cup Finals the past two seasons, locking down a touted Red Wings offense with a deadly fore-check and great back pressure.Thomas Vanek netted two goals, and Derek Roy tallied three assists to lead the offense as the Sabres finally managed to convert their chances and broke the game wide open in the second period.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, a time for celebration was cut short as coach Lindy Ruff announced in his post-game press conference Vanek had suffered an undisclosed upper body injury and would be out for a matter of weeks. Vanek slid into the boards immediately after scoring his second goal, a tap-in off of a hardworking effort by Roy and disappeared to the dressing room shortly thereafter, although Ruff hinted the injury occurred beforehand.


The Upswing

First and foremost, the Sabres finally managed to convert their scoring chances, putting five pucks behind Detroit starter Chris Osgood and one more behind his replacement, Jimmy Howard.

Vanek led the way with two markers, while Paul Gaustad, Drew Stafford, Clarke Macarthur and Patrick Kaleta each tallied a goal. The Sabres continued their offensive strategy from their first three games, creating offense in transition, driving hard to the net and disrupting clearing attempts to generate more scoring chances. Each line looked dangerous and created its own fair share of offense, with only the third line of Jochen Hecht, Tim Kennedy and Mike Grier being left off of the scoreboard.

The defense also contributed heavily to the rush, with Chris Butler, Steve Montador and rookie Tyler Myers jumping up into the play to create mismatched situations in Buffalo’s favor. In one such instance, Myers showed poise beyond his 19 years, driving cleanly around Wings defenseman Derek Meech and putting a backhand on Osgood. The rebound was kicked back out into play and buried on the backhand by Kaleta, who was trailing on the play.

The Sabres were incredible on the fore-check, pressuring the Red Wings defense into countless sloppy turnovers and forced errors. Even Nicklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings captain and Norris Trophy finalist was victim to the Sabres effort, recording four giveaways, zero points and a minus one rating.

The Sabres managed to keep a talented Wings team pinned in its own end for the duration of the game and largely neutralized the highly skilled Detroit core of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and the aforementioned Lidstrom.

The Versus TV announcing crew applauded the Sabres efforts in the offensive zone, repeatedly diagramming the Sabres strategy along the boards and showing how Buffalo’s forwards were beating the Detroit defenders down low.

Just as impressive as the Sabres offense, was their play in their own zone. Buffalo’s forwards put on a clinic on back pressure, repeatedly taking the puck away from Red Wings forwards as they were being harassed by Buffalo defensemen. Buffalo’s D also supported itself, winning battle after battle down low and pasting Detroit attackers to the boards.

Captain Craig Rivet led the way in this regard, repeatedly throwing the body against the Wings fore-check, despite only being credited with one hit. Toni Lydman was solid in his first game back from a wrist injury that sidelined him from Buffalo’s first three contests and looked right at home with his old Calgary Flames defense partner Steve Montador.

Henrik Tallinder has also rebounded nicely from his poor pre-season play and has looked very strong when paired with the big Myers and led all players with a plus five rating.

The Sabres power play is also starting to look dangerous. Chris Butler and Myers have looked more than capable manning the point on the first unit. Both have great shots, and a deft fake by Myers set up the Sabres first goal. Even when Buffalo wasn’t converting on its chances, the Sabres were moving the puck well and intercepting Red Wing clearing attempts, wearing out the Detroit penalty killers and bringing a packed house at HSBC arena to its feet.

Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller has yet to give up a clean goal this year. Although Miller surrendered two goals in the victory, both were deflected before they went in and would have been impossible for almost any goaltender to stop. So far this season, if Ryan Miller can see the puck, he will stop it. Miller also came up huge on a penalty shot by Valtteri Filppula, which stymied Detroit’s efforts to come from behind.


The Down Slope

The Sabres goals against this year have come from an inability to tie up opposing forwards in front of the net. Butler let Valtteri Filppula gain prime real estate in front of the net, where he tipped Niklas Kronwall’s point shot in to tie the game at 1-1. Tomas Holmstrom also scored when he deflected a puck in while parked in front of Miller. Buffalo needs to keep opposing forwards away from their netminder and should not be afraid to lay some lumber to get the job done.

Vanek’s injury is disappointing news for a top six forward corps that seemed to finally be gelling. Losing Vanek puts far more focus on the Buffalo’s line of MacArthur, Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville, who have thrived while opposing teams keyed on Vanek, Roy and Stafford. Vanek was also finally establishing chemistry with Roy, something that was missing between the two for most of last season and the first three games of the current one. Roy assisted on both of Vanek’s goals, making a precise lob pass to his winger to set up Vanek’s first tally, and driving hard to the net and poking the puck into space to create the second.


Closing Thoughts

The Sabres have a break until Friday, when the New York Islanders come to town, followed by the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday. Despite picking in the top five in the past draft, both teams have looked surprisingly capable to start the season, with the Isles first overall pick John Tavares scoring five points in his first four games, and Atlanta Captain Ilya Kovalchuk netting five goals in three contests.

Additionally, both teams gave the Sabres fits last year, as Buffalo lost all four games against the Thrashers in overtime or a shootout, while splitting the season series against the Islanders, a team that finished last in the entire league.

Much like they did against the Coyotes, Buffalo will have to put in a full sixty minutes of effort and not coast through a weaker opponent, a habit that cost the team a playoff berth last season. The Sabres will also have to overcome the loss of Vanek. The top six forwards for the Sabres will all have to step up and continue the offensive production in Vanek’s absence, especially the goal-less Pominville.

To fill the open roster spot, it is speculated that Ruff will insert Danny Paille into the lineup, although it is not confirmed where he will play. Regardless of Paille’s role, he will have to bring the energy and physicality that he showed on a consistent basis in juniors but has only come through in spurts in the NHL. Hopefully, the Paille that laid a devastating hit on Rod Brind’Amour, found a way to put the puck in the net and was noted for his skating and work ethic will show up on Friday, and not the Danny whose listless play saw him banished to the press box on multiple occasions.

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