The “hardest working team in hockey” is back.
For all of you youngsters out there who did not get to witness the Sabres of the mid-90’s, tonight you saw the brand of Ted Nolan hockey that was the persona of his Sabres 17 years ago. Buffalo worked hard all night, and it resulted in a 3-1 home win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For the first time this season, the Sabres were not terribly outshot – 33-27 in favor of the Leafs. For the first time this season, Buffalo played sound hockey in all 3 zones. The centers dropped back to help the defensemen, while the wingers helped with moving the puck into and out of the blue lines. This was a team effort tonight, with all 5 Sabres on the ice helping each other out.
Steve Ott looked revitalized. Ott scored a powerplay goal, pounding home a rebound. He also assisted on Marcus Foligno’s first goal of the year, as Foligno drove to the net like a bull, knocking the net off the moorings after the goal, then shoving a Leaf as he was bursting with energy to celebrate. Even Drew Stafford was an actual hockey player tonight – breaking up passes, creating scoring chances, and throwing his body around.
Christian Ehrhoff also had one of his better games of the season, making the save of the game with less than one minute remaining, as he blocked a shot on a wide open net that could have tied the game. Moments later, he sealed the victory with his first goal of the season, an empty netter.
Of course, Ryan Miller did his best Ryan Miller impression – stopping 32 of the 33 shots. He definitely has visions of Olympic rings dancing in his head.
As a Sabres fan, this was an awesome game to watch. All that we Buffalo fans really want is a team that competes. Most of us are knowledgeable enough to understand that the team is rebuilding and will not be world beaters this season. Yet, we still want to see a team that tries. The direction of Ted Nolan gave us that, and more, in tonight’s win. You could sense that the players were more motivated, you could see the smiles on their faces, it was obvious that they were reveling in the new atmosphere of Nolan.
One of the positives of the Sabres tonight, is that they relied on their veterans to take charge, instead of trying to force the youngsters into carrying the team. Players like Ott, Ehrhoff, Stafford, and Tyler Myers responded well to this – and it lead to players like Zemgus Girgensons, Corey Tropp, and Foligno playing a more comfortable game. There were no glaring mistakes by Mark Pysyk or Rasmus Ristolainen.
Unfortunately, and mysteriously, the Sabres top 2 offensive players in Matt Moulson and Cody Hodgson were very silent tonight – nearly invisible. If Nolan can get those two going, and incorporate a freshly remodeled Mikhail Grigorenko, this brand of Sabres hockey will remain fun to watch for the rest of this year. Who knows, maybe I will even shell out some money and catch a few games! A few more games like this, and I might choke on the Kool-Aid.
I would love to know your thoughts on the game below!