Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
The Buffalo Sabres were so bad the last two years that they were seldom in the position to rival any team, much less ignite a fire to get the blood boiling from both sides. Sure, there were times that they'd stick up for themselves or a teammate and there'd be some hacking and hard checks, but for the most part, you can't have a rivalry with one team so bad that they shouldn't even be playing on the same sheet of ice as the other.
Buffalo is no juggernaut, although last night they played one of their best, if not their best, game of the season against the rival Ottawa Senators. Bad blood between the teams goes back to February 22, 2007 when Ottawa's Chris Neil bloodied Buffalo's Chris Drury with a hit to the head that knocked the Sabres' co-captain woozy. After the next puck drop, an infamous line brawl ensued.
Neil, who's known for dirty tactics, pugnacity and a willingness to drop the gloves with anyone, has almost always brought that to Sens/Sabres games and he was at it again last night. He was constantly in the face of Buffalo defenseman Mark Pysyk and kneed rookie Jack Eichel after he was tripped to the ice behind the Ottawa net.
Sens d-man Dion Phaneuf, who likes to through his weight around, also lays out hits that either border on dirty or cross the line and he almost crossed the line last night. He must have had the Neil on Drury hit somewhere in the back of his mind as he was headhunting another No. 23--Buffalo's Sam Reinhart.
With about seven minutes to go in the third period last night, Phaneuf saw Reinhart at the blueline with his head down and lined him up. With Reinhart in a prone position, Phaneuf readied his shoulder to land an blow to the head, but he would just miss as Reinhart got his head out of the way.
Buffalo didn't take kindly to that and Zach Bogosian went right after Phaneuf. The two would drop 'em but the linesman would get between the two as they all went down to the ice.
The Sabres came out on to of the chippy affair by a 3-1 margin and it was the second game in a row that a parade to the penalty box included 10-minute misconducts as Neil and Buffalo's Marcus Foligno were penalized late in the second period. On Thursday the Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens there were four 10-minute misconducts handed out between the two teams with 82 penalty minutes handed out between them for acts of aggression.
Montreal's another team with whom the Sabres have a rivalry, one which dates back to the 70's. As of late Buffalo has been so far out of their league that there's not much blood boiling between the two teams but they got their dander up on Thursday night an the Canadians would eventually win that one in overtime 3-2.
One team that's been on the Sabres level for most of the last nine years are the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team Buffalo plays tonight. Gone are the days of former GM Brian Burke's "pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence," and the 2013 preseason melee' featuring Toronto's Phil Kessel and Buffalo's John Scott has faded into memory, but there's plenty of animosity left between the two clubs.
When the two teams meet in Buffalo, a large, boisterous contingent of Leafs fans invade the First Niagara Center and the energy invariably spills out onto the ice. Although the majority fans in attendance at Air Canada Center are of the calm, stuffier variety, the players provide intrinsic value as antagonism permeates the ice.
Should be a fun one tonight.
Reinhart got the Sabres on the board with his 20th goal of the season early in the first period on the powerplay.
Linemate Zemgus Girgensons went flying into the Ottawa net after being slashed by Phaneuf. There was a video review on the play as the puck was in the net before it came off of it's moorings. Problem was, we saw the puck just before it crossed the goal line but didn't see it again until it came out from under Girgensons. Circumstantial evidence said the puck was in before the net came off, but that's not good enough.
With Phaneuf in the box the Sabres jumped on the powerplay opportunity a mere :08 into the penalty. Rasmus Ristolainen sent a shot to the net that caromed off of Girgensons right to Reinhart at the side of the crease. After a couple of quick shots were denied, Reinhart finally put it away. Girgensons received and assist on the play, rather deserving as he missed out on goal.
With the marker last night, Reinhart joined fellow rookie Eichel in the 20-goal club. According to Sabres PR, they are only the third pair of rookies in franchise history to do so joining Danny Gare (31) and Peter McNabb (22) in 1974-75 and Gilbert Perreault (38) and Steve Atkinson (20) in 1970-71.
With that point, they became the first rookie duo to hit 35 points each since 1987-88 when Ray Sheppard (65), Pierre Turgeon (42) & Calle Johansson (42) hit those marks.
--Bogosian who scored once again last night. He now has goals in consecutive games and four points (2+2) in his last five.
--Rasmus Ristolainen. The angry Finn finally had enough of Steve Chiasson egging him on and the two dropped the gloves. Although it was nothing more than a wrestling match it was good to see Risto engaged like that. Like color commentator and former Sabres pugilist Rob Ray noted, Ristolainen needs to back up his edgy play by dropping them.
--Mark Pysyk for not budging while being constantly harassed by Neil. Pysyk's smart enough to know that he'd get clobbered if he ever dropped 'em with Neil, but he stood his ground.
--Chad Johnson was stout in net. The only other puck to get by him was one redirected with the glove of Ottawa's Scott Gomez.
--And to the line of Reinhart, Girgensons and Eichel which may be dubbed the S.S. Floater--Skunk, Scrub and Floater, respectively.