Sabres Rake Leafs In Overtime

Posted on December 22, 2009 by Will Eldredge

Eight games.  That’s the number of times the Sabres have consecutively bested the Toronto Maple Leafs going into Monday night’s contest.  Derek Roy’s backhand goal 3:55  into overtime extended that streak to nine.

With the puck along the boards, Steve Montador’s pinch sent the puck over to Jochen Hecht, who set up a wide-open Roy directly in front of Toronto goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, capping off another game where the Sabres were able to eke out a win against the Maple Leafs when not playing to their strengths.

The Leafs out-shot the Sabres 36-30, won 15 more face-offs and recorded 10 more hits, but could only solve Ryan Miller twice.  Miller, as he has been all season was the key to victory for the Sabres, and his 34 saves stymied the Leafs, especially sniper Phil Kessel, who failed to connect on any of his five shots and has yet to record a point in three games against the Sabres.

On to the breakdown:

The Upswing:
The Buffalo Sabres have continuously found ways to win ugly and tonight was no different.  The Sabres had issues solving Gustavsson for most of the night, and despite a soft goal by Nathan Paetsch early, the traffic the Sabres were generating seemed un-effective.  When the teams of the past would have cashed out and chalked up their loss to a few bad bounces, the Sabres pressed hard and tied up the game in the third on Jochen Hecht’s backhander.

Hecht and Roy are starting to click.  After a horrible 2008 campaign, Hecht is looking more and more like his old self, a player who brings a strong defensive presence to the scoring lines and wins battles along the boards.  With the strong German winger creating a little more space for him, Roy has also seemed to simplify his game when paired with Hecht and has been more effective at getting pucks to the net and forechecking.

Paetsch.  Although he’s fallen far, far down the depth chart for both defense and forward, when he’s in the lineup, he’s a gamer.  It’s always nice to see a guy who doesn’t see the ice all that much be rewarded for his commitment.  Congrats on the goal, Nathan.

Even though Monday night’s contest was not one of his best, Tim Kennedy has continued to add facets to his game.  He absolutely lined up a Leaf player with an open ice body check some-time during the second period and has been throwing what little mass he has around with increasing regularity.  Despite being one of the Sabres most diminutive forwards, Timmy hasn’t been afraid to finish a check or lay the lumber on an opposing forward who has strayed too close to Miller.  On a team that has been criticized for its soft play in the past, it’s a welcome change to see a tenacious newcomer in the system.

Paul Gaustad continued his dominance at the dot, winning seventy-one percent of his faceoffs overall and only losing one draw against either of Toronto’s scoring forwards.

Ryan Miller.  He leads the league in goals against average, save percentage and shutouts.  Both pucks that found there way into the Buffalo net were deflections that were impossible to stop.  What else needs to be said?

The Downslope:
Tim Connolly.  What happened, man?  Your new contract was supposed to get the team into the playoffs last year (great prediction there, Pierre McGuire), and although you played admirably, you and company didn’t get the job done.  This year, you’ve been invisible, you haven’t scored in around twenty games, you’re too hurt or unwilling to take faceoffs, you called out the media and you’ve been demoted to the checking line with Gaustad and Mike Grier.  Even then your play was called “too fancy” by an impartial Vs announcing crew and they blamed you for one of the Toronto goals against.  What gives?

The dilemma of  Grier.  When Thomas Vanek comes back, Grier will have to be in two places at once.  First, he’ll have to assume the role of mentor and power forward on the line with Vanek and Kennedy, which has been one of the most productive of the season.  If Ruff puts Grier on a more offensive line, than there is a vacancy on the shutdown line with Gaustad, with nobody on the roster being able to replace Grier’s combination of size, physicality, leadership and defensive prowess.  Hopefully, GM Darcy Regier can move quickly to fill one of those holes.

Every Sabres center not named Gaustad.  The performance at the dot was inexcusable for a team that is trying to play a puck possession system.  Goose was the only player who had taken more than one draw to have a winning record.  Maybe the big center needs to start giving these guys some lessons.

Closing Thoughts

Although it’s always nice to see the Sabres pick up two points, doubly so against a division rival like Toronto, they’ll have to step their game up against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Wednesday.  Miller shut out the Caps in their last meeting, and he’ll have to be just as sharp in this match-up as Washington comes into the game winners of 7 of their last 10.

Hopefully Patrick Kaleta and Vanek will return and give the Sabres some much needed scoring depth, and Tyler Myers and Henrik Tallinder will be ready for the challenge of shutting down the league’s most dynamic goal scorer.

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