After a whole lot of torture since the lockout ended, perhaps the Buffalo Sabres have finally figured the Ottawa Senators out.
The last five years have seen a lot of Sabres losses at the hands of the Sens. The last two, in particular, have been difficult to stomach because there's really not a whole lot of talent left on the Ottawa roster. Buffalo has frittered away games to Ottawa in every conceivable way - blowouts, crazy bounces, bad defensive breakdowns with a minute to go, getting shut out by an AHL-caliber lineup. Sabre fans are sick to death of talking about The Curse and probably wouldn't rather beat any other team in the NHL as much as Ottawa.
So for that reason, the way the Sabres won was particularly satisfying: by grabbing a third-period lead and actually holding it, instead of finding a way to lose. Sure, the Sabres outplayed Ottawa through the first two periods (outshooting the Sens 29-12) and failed to enter the third period with a lead. And yeah, they took four 3rd-period penalties (not counting Derek Roy being sent off at the same time as Chris Neil). Normally against Ottawa, this is a recipe for heartbreak; that they shrugged off this adversity speaks to their character, at least for an evening.
- Thomas Vanek was by far the best Sabre forward. The shot he ripped off the post about two minutes in won't be found on the scoresheet, but seemed to set the tone for his evening. He was physically dominant, and I doubt the Sens could have kept him from the front of the net if they had erected a brick wall around the crease. He led the team in shots and had a number of high-quality scoring chances, two of which came on the same first-period power play. He was somehow held off the scoresheet, but that is going to be the rule and not the exception when he's on like this.
- After a bad Derek Roy turnover early in the first period, I got that here-we-go-again feeling. Then he had to go and score two goals and force me to say nice things about him. All kidding aside, Roy's two goals couldn't have been any different, but both were goal scorer's goals in their own right: goal #1 was the result of a gorgeous deke that likely has Chris Philips still wondering where the puck went, and goal #2 was a bank off the goaltender's skate that doesn't happen unless Roy has the presence of mind to try such a thing. Roy could have had a hat trick if not for a failed breakway in the first. I find it difficult to complain much when your alleged top two forwards actually play like your top two forwards.
- Want to hear something shocking? Tyler Myers led the Sabres in ice time. I know. It's hard to believe. Myers was solid throughout, at one point thwarting a possible breakaway with his fifty-foot-long arms. And the second Roy goal doesn't happen if Myers doesn't push the puck into the zone, forcing the defense to back off and opening a lane for Ennis to step into and intercept a clearing attempt.
- Speaking of Ennis: welcome to your new full-time role, Tyler. That second-line spot looks good on you. Two assists tonight, and it looks like Ennis-Roy-Stafford is going to be quite a formidable line.
- Rob Niedermayer had a rather useful Sabre debut. He only registered two shots but it seemed like both were great scoring chances.
- The same is true of Shaone Morrisonn, who looked solid next to Myers. He seems like a rather physical player, and you know we can always use more of that.
- The penalty kill picked up where it left off last year, shutting down six Ottawa power plays - none of which seemed particularly threatening.
- Ryan Miller, 25 saves on 26 shots, best goalie in the league, yadda yadda. Broken record. He had no chance on the tap-in Ottawa goal.
- Jordan Leopold: coughing up the puck and causing a goal in your very first game as a Sabre is not a good way to endear yourself to the fan base here. Especially not if it was Chris Neil you lost the puck to.
- Most criticism on Ottawa's lone goal went to Leopold, and rightfully so. But it's worth mentioning that the "backcheck" on the play by Tim Connolly was pitiful. Connolly was generally worthless except for the neat drag move that led to his only shot on goal of the game. He still looks like he's skating through mud.
- Andrej Sekera was on the ice for 16:23 and did nothing to make me hope he stays in the lineup ahead of Chris Butler and Mike Weber. Usually it's a good thing when I don't notice a defenseman very much - it means you're probably not fishing pucks out of your own net. But again, it's all about potential with Reggie: for a player with his offensive upside, "not noticeable" leaves me wanting more.
- Although I'm happy that the penalty kill is seemingly as dominant as last year, I would prefer not to continue to tempt fate by giving up six power plays per game.
Next Game: 10/9/10, home opener vs. the Rangers. I have no idea when I'll be seeing this game, thanks to that whole "about to have a baby" thing.