The Buffalo Sabres were looking to end their losing skid tonight at home against their rivals from across the border, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Before tonight’s game, the Sabres had defeated the Leafs in 11 of their last 12 home games. Having dropped their last three straight, the Sabres were desperate for a win coming into tonight’s matchup.
The big news in Buffalo this today was the decision for the Sabres to keep Mikhail Grigorenko in the NHL. Their announcement to keep him up burns the first year of his entry level contract and keeps him with the Sabres for the remainder of the season. With a burden seemingly lifted off his shoulders, Grigorenko looked more comfortable on the ice and his increased aggressive style of play with the puck proved just that in tonight’s game. His overall play for most of the game was characterized by ups and downs for much of the night, but it was all overshadowed when he found the back of the net for the first time in his NHL career and tied it up for Buffalo late in the contest. The crowd was absolutely electric as he celebrated with his line mate Marcus Foligno and he finally gave the fans something the cheer about here in Buffalo. His goal brought new life to the Sabres late, but they couldn’t get it done as they fell to Toronto in overtime losing 4-3.
With both teams currently sitting in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings, there was no lack of competitive play as the two rivals faced off. After a controversial hit in the first period that sent Patrick Kaleta to the hospital, Mike Weber dropped the gloves for Buffalo against Toronto’s Mike Brown. Weber’s actions were justified in the response to the cheap shot on Kaleta that resulted in a boarding penalty, but he was rewarded with a 10 minute game misconduct on top of an instigating penalty that left Sabres fans in shock.
Toronto got on the board first in the game on a wrist shot by Jay Clement that quieted the crowd early on here in Buffalo.
Thomas Vanek made his way back into the lineup tonight after he missed Sunday’s game because of an injury. After a sloppy start to their first man-up advantage, and almost giving up a goal deep in their own end, the Sabres came back with a power play goal scored by Jason Pominville. Thomas Vanek had an assist on the play, giving him his 457th career point moving him past Miroslav Satan for the 10th most points scored all time in Sabres history.
The Sabres applied the pressure early in the second period with a beautiful feed from Drew Stafford to Andrej Sekera streaking towards the net for an easy put away. Having a Sabres defenseman step up and get involved on the offense was the spark they needed to get going, but the lead for Buffalo was short lived as Toronto came back less than two minutes later with a goal from Matt Frattin. This deflated the momentum for Buffalo as they struggled the rest of the 2nd. Cody Franson scored the go-ahead goal for Toronto giving them the lead going into the final frame.
The Sabres got new life from their offense in the third period on Grigorenko’s first goal of his NHL career. The crowd came alive at The First Niagara Center and fans were on their feet as the momentum began shifting back towards Buffalo. Having the young rookie tie it up was a crucial moment for the team and everything looked to be going Buffalo’s way late in the game.
In the end, it would be the laziness of the Buffalo defensemen that cost the team as Matt Frattin slipped by the defense in front of the net and roofed a last second goal as time expired in overtime. The crowd was absolutely stunned silent in Buffalo, and the Sabres have now lost their last four games in a row.
Ryan Miller didn’t have a great outing tonight, allowing 4 goals on 24 shots. The team needs to see more consistency out of him going forward if they have any hopes of making it to the postseason this year.
As the Sabres now fall to 2-4 on the season and drop to dead last in their division, something needs to happen soon or this could be the start of another tough season here in Buffalo.
The Sabres take on the Bruins in Boston this Thursday.