Monday, December 1, 2014

Sabres gut out another win against Habs

Reprinted with permission from

For the better part of six periods this weekend (plus an overtime,) the Buffalo Sabres had their butts pinned in their own zone by the Montreal Canadiens. Yet the end result of the home-and-home was two wins for the Sabres and a loser point for the Habs. The Canadiens are a good team. They're fast, strong on the forecheck and can finish. They have a well-balanced group of defensemen that can contribute offensively and some pretty solid goaltending as well. Even with the lone point this weekend, they're still tied for the league lead in points with 34.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the ice in Buffalo on Friday and Montreal on Saturday was decidedly tilted in the Habs favor over most of those two games. Simple stats will show it. The Canadiens won 92 of 132 draws over the weekend, an astounding 70% and Sabres' netminder Jhonas Enroth faced 75 shots on goal while his counterparts faced only 51.

Enroth proved to be nearly unbeatable in the face of relentless pressure over the weekend. He only gave up four goals on those 75 shots (.947 sv%) and should be faulted for none of them. In fact one could argue that two shouldn't have even counted. Friday night the referee was taking a long sip of coffee with the puck underneath Enroth's pad, and as he tried to move it to his glove, Montreal's PA Parenteau was there to poke it home.

Last night there was another error in judgment on Montreal's first goal. This time it came from the "war room" in Toronto via a video review.

Brendan Gallagher blasted a shot that clanked off the inside of the post that caromed out the other side. The refs ruled no goal. During the review we were treated to an incredible overhead shot showing that Enroth got the nub of his goalie stick on the puck as it was about to cross the goal line and somehow he redirected it out. A freeze frame captures the point of contact between the puck and the stick in reference to the goal line.

As the play was ruled no goal, there needed to be conclusive evidence to overrule the call. At best it was inconclusive as the naked eye could see there was still a sliver on the line. I'm assuming those in the war room didn't have their readers, because they missed that one.

C'est la vie.

It's a shame that even with video evidence staring them right in the face that they couldn't get it right. The goal broke an impressive run for Enroth. Up until then he had not allowed a five-on-five goal in over 296 minutes, nearly 15 periods.

That Enroth has been light's out is one thing, but the skaters in front of him are playing pretty tight. Time and again during last night's telecast it was pointed out that the Sabres were locked into their assignments making it difficult for the Habs to gain any space. Even on Montreal's second goal, rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov had his man tied up in the crease. Unfortunately the puck glanced in off of his skate and into the net.

Sound defensive play in the face of relentless pressure has kept the Sabres in games, but a strong counterpunch and finish has allowed them to win. There's no better evidence of that than the Chris Stewart goal last night.

With the Habs applying pressure in the Buffalo zone, Marcus Foligno did his best Mike Ramsey impersonation and laid out to block a shot from the point. He bounced to his skates after the block and chipped the puck into the neutral zone. Stewart kicked in his heavy-Chevy 4-barrel and headed up ice splitting two Montreal defenders. With a flick of the wrist he snapped one top shelf, blocker side and the Sabres were back in front 2-1.

Head coach Ted Nolan has this group buying in and he has them on a roll. After losing five in a row they closed out the month of November winning five of six. Their only loss was 2-1 decision to Winnipeg. Of note, the Sabres were without defenseman Tyler Myers and his 25+ minutes for that one.

For Nolan, heroes come in all shapes and sizes, whether it be the greasy, diminutive Tyler Ennis, the "Twin Towers" of Rasmus Ristolainen and Zadorov, a punchy 35 yr. old veteran like Brian Gionta, a grinder like Torrey Mitchell or a speedy Brian Flynn.

Flynn is one of those players who's work largely goes unnoticed unless your right there. Last night he scored the game-tying goal only :39 after Max Pacioretty gave Montreal the lead and he was the only one of ten shooters to score in the shootout.

He was named the game's first star by those at the Bell Center last night.

Nolan is once again maxing out his players capabilities and with some unexpectedly strong goaltending now has them on a nice run. How far it takes them is to be determined, but despite the ramifications of winning too much for some fan's liking, this fan is enjoying the run. Especially when it includes taking down rivals like Montreal and Toronto.

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