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Sabres V Pens Game 22

The Sabres skated way with 2 points Friday night after defeating the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins, despite playing Lindy Ruff’s system for only one period. Luckily, it was the period that counted the most.
Things were wide open for the first 2 periods, looking more like a game from the Briere and Drury era than one of the defense-first contests the coaching staff has been trying to get going this season. Shockingly, the score stayed relatively low, despite the presence of the league’s leading scorer, Evgeni Malkin, and his partner-in-crime, Sidney Crosby. To be fair, they both had a productive night. Both of Crosby’s goals were assisted by Malkin. It’s just that the rest of their usually high-powered team couldn’t seem to get it going.
It was obvious that the Sabres were starting to fall behind in the speed department toward the end of the second period. They took three penalties in the 6 minutes before the second intermission. During the penalty kill, a flat-footed Spacek was checked by Malkin, and the puck was scooped up by an eagle-eyed Crosby who buried his head and drove to the Buffalo net to beat Miller and give his team the lead.
The period ended shortly after, and a different Sabres squad hit the ice for the third. They were focused, attentive in their own zone and seemed to play with more determination. They also held the Penguins to zero shots for 9 minutes in the third period. In fact, they didn’t tally any until after Paul Gaustad’s second (and game winning) goal of the night.
They’re lucky the game didn’t get away from them in the first and second period, because Pittsburgh has the potential to burn just about any team in the league. Just look at their comeback against the Islanders on November 26. The Sabres victory can be attributed to the change in style in the third. If this Sabres squad wants continued success, they need to stay away from the temptation to “show off at home,” keep the puck out of their end and play responsibly in every zone.
That’s not to say that the 2 goals they scored in the opening two-thirds of the game were pretty. The goals the Sabres scored were the product of hard work, something they carried over from the victory against Boston. They weren’t afraid to crash netminder John Curry, despite it being his first NHL start. They didn’t let the Pens push them around in front of the net and were rewarded for it. Stafford’s goal was the product of Afinogenov slyly attempting a wrap-around, which created a pretty big rebound. Gaustad scored both by going to the net and working hard for the rebounds.
The goal the Sabres scored that was pretty was their third one. It came on a 3-on-2 rush in the third period. It was a gorgeously executed text-book play – Roy, centering the rush, passes right to Vanek, who then fires it to Stafford on the left for the open net – but it’s the type the team shouldn’t get used to cashing in on. They simply don’t have the firepower to rely on those types of plays every game.
Afinogenov posted a point tonight, but his propensity to hog the puck increased as the game went on. It’s possible that he’s playing harder to facilitate a trade – nobody would have wanted him the way he was playing earlier in the season. Word on the street is Colorado has been looking his way… could Max be playing in the Rockies? The Sabres are thin at center and were ousted on faceoffs at the end of the second 27-19, despite the final tally being 36-32 in Pittsburgh’s favor at the end of the game. It would behoove them to bring back a player who can take draws.
Buffalo will be on the road to take on another of the East’s hottest teams tomorrow in Montreal, capping off what looked like it might have been a weekend from Hell. If they can continue to play a smart game of hockey, they might be able to come out unscathed with 6 points. Let’s just hope they don’t get ahead of themselves and continue to take it one period at a time.

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