Sabres Show Off Gritty Side in Win at New Jersey

Posted on October 29, 2009 by Will Eldredge

The Buffalo Sabres are playing like a team buying into the system Lindy Ruff preaches.  The Sabres came out flying on Wednesday night against the Devils, scoring two goals in the first six minutes against a hot New Jersey team that entered the game riding a three game winning streak.

Clarke MacArthur began the scoring when he tapped a rebound of a Craig Rivet shot past Martin Brodeur 1:21 into the first period, while Tim Kennedy scored the first goal of his NHL career on a soft wrister to make it 2-0.  Paul Gaustad and Jason Pominville added  insurance in the third period to cement a stifling Sabres win.

The Upswing

♦    As predicted by many, the Sabres bottom six has been absolutely exceptional to start the season.  The third line of Jochen Hecht, Kennedy and Mike Grier lead the Sabres in even strength ice time and provided solid play in all three zones throughout the game in addition to supplying the game-winning score.  Even more physically dominating was the fourth line, lead by Gaustad with Matt Ellis and Pat Kaleta on his wings.  Sparked by Gaustad’s league-leading face off skills, the fourth line relentlessly established offensive zone time and stayed there, putting puck after puck on Martin Brodeur, and finally breaking through with Gaustad’s goal off of a great pass by Ellis to put the game away for the Sabres.

♦    Ryan Miller remains to be a pillar of strength for Buffalo, stopping 31 of 32 New Jersey shots, including a shorthanded chance that would have put the Devils back in the game in the third period.

♦    Clarke MacArthur is still working hard and scoring goals in high traffic areas.  It’s great to see the kid off to such a hot start and capitalizing on his new found ice time.

♦    Gaustad continued his dominance on the draw, winning 68% of his face-offs in all situations.  His production in the dot has been invaluable for the new puck possession system the Sabres have been employing.

♦   Speaking of that system, the Sabres continue to play it to success.  Short shifts and strong forechecking led to Buffalo’s two goal lead and minus a few lapses in the second period, the system was prevalent for the Sabres throughout the whole game in a dominating fashion.

♦    The Sabres stood up for themselves yet again, clearing Devils from Miller’s crease and going after Colin White for a hit on Kennedy after the whistle.  A team that fights together wins together.

♦   Coffee is for closers and the Sabres should have themselves another cup.  Unlike their brethren on the gridiron, the Sabres have made a habit of putting games out of reach by any means necessary.  Gaustad and Pominville’s conversions late, combined with the penalty kill holding the Devils scoreless on four straight minutes of power play time did just that.  Bills special teams should take note.

The Downslope

♦    It’s never good to be out-hit almost three to one, but that’s exactly what the Devils did to Buffalo.  Although the Sabres did play their game well, it would have been nice to see Kaleta deliver a punishing check to Zach Parise or Zajac when the Sabres are on the forecheck.

♦    The Sabres remain anemic on the power play.  Even though Pominville scored late with the man advantage, at that point the game was out of hand.  When the Sabres needed to answer the Devils lone goal, the Sabres’ play with the man advantage was ugly at best.  As much as I like what Ruff has done with the team, I’d like to see the following things happen with the power play:

♦    Tyler Myers back on the point for the number one unit.  Pominville has a great shot from the slot and is solid as another passing option cycling up to the blue line from down low, but he should not be the playing the point.  He lacks the subtle moves and mobility of Myers and is terrible at keeping the puck in.  Case in point: his broken stick leading to a two on one going the other way for the Devils (to Pommer’s credit, he did make a nice play to break it up)

♦    Gaustad winning the draw, then swapping out for Thomas Vanek when the puck leaves the zone.  I love Goose taking the draw, but Vanek’s better in front of the net and is being underutilized.  He should be getting as much power play time as possible; as he did pot 20 with the man advantage last year.

♦    The Sabres’ top scoring lines at times lack the domination by effort that’s present with the bottom six.  I’m not going to go as far as to say that the top six needs a big shakeup trade this second, but it should be made clear to four big names (Vanek, Tim Connolly, Derek Roy and Pominville) that they need to bring it every shift or the front office will find someone who will.  MacArthur and Stafford have been great almost every game and our big four should take cue.

Moving Forward

The Sabres have back to back games against the Leafs and Islanders this weekend and not to beat a dead horse, but Buffalo cannot fall victim to playing down to competition.

If they play the system as well as they did Wednesday night, they will rest on Sunday with four more points in the standings.  Both Toronto and the Islanders have issues on defense, with goaltending and inconsistent forward production.

The Sabres need to look to exploit all these things this weekend.  Oh, and it would be nice to beat up the Leafs as well as beat them, Mike Komisarek especially.

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