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Sabres V Pens Game 27

League leaders in scoring? Check. League leader in goals scored? Check. Entertaining and offensive minded match up? Double-check. The Buffalo Sabres played with fire for most of the game and came out unscathed, topping the Pittsburgh Penguins at their own game 4-3 Monday night.
Normally, I’d be all over the Sabres for trying to match Pittsburgh’s game, but they didn’t really give themselves much of a choice by going down 2 goals in the second period. Buffalo grabbed the lead and then shut down defensively with great success, keeping the Penguins from generating much of anything on offense until the dying minutes of the third period.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring 9 minutes and 37 seconds into the first period when Rulsan Fedotenko put in his first of the game. Penguins forward Peter Sykora passed the puck to Evgeni Malkin in the Buffalo zone. Malkin accepted the pass and put it through his legs in a nifty play, dumbfounding Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman. He then passed it cross ice to Fedotenko who put it past a frozen Ryan Miller. Miller isn’t to blame for the goal – he was taking away Malkin’s shot. The defense should have done a better job getting into the passing lane if anything, but in all actuality it was a well-executed play that any team would have had a problem defending.
The Sabres struck back 2 minutes and 30 seconds later, however, when Derek Roy put away his eighth of the year. Brooks Orpik was attempting to leave his own zone and was checked just outside the blue line by Roy, who picked up the puck and entered into a 2-on-1 with rookie Nathan Gerbe. Roy opted to shoot when he got to the hash marks and wristed a shot past Penguins netminder Danny Sabourin.
Pittsburgh wouldn’t leave the game tied for long, though. They took the lead back with 4:45 remaining in the period when Fedotenko put his second of the game into the twine. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang entered the Buffalo zone after picking up a loose puck at center ice. He made it to the back-left corner before abruptly stopping and going back the other way, leaving Sabres D-man Henrik Tallinder behind. Letang passed the puck to Sykora behind the net. He took it to the other side and kicked it out to Malkin, who was parked all alone in the face off circle while one of the Sabres (whose number was not visible) was all alone at the blue line, covering no one. Malkin shot it over to Fedotenko cross-crease and he snapped it past Miller. They effectively spun the the Sabres in a circle with that play.
One of the most glaring statistics at the end of the first period was blocked shots. The Penguins kept 12 from getting to the net – Buffalo only got in the way once. A team like Pittsburgh thrives on the ability to pass efficiently, and it’s up to the players on the other team to take that away. The Sabres let the Penguins play their game and fell behind because of it.
Buffalo got off to a rough start in the second period. They went down 2 men at the end of the first, giving the Penguins a 5-on-3. While they killed off one of the penalties, another was assessed to Sabres forward Jochen Hecht for tripping. Pittsburgh finally put one past Miller shorthanded, when Crosby settled the puck down deep in the Buffalo zone to the left of the net. He passed the puck with laser accuracy to Letang, who was out by the right hash marks to put away his first of the year. Again, the Sabres may have been able to stop the play if they hit the ice, but both Jaroslav Spacek and Roy made no attempt to do so.
Honestly, the Sabres penalty kill kept them in the game. They only allowed 1 goal on 8 Pittsburgh opportunities. It’s a wonder that they play so well defensively shorthanded but can’t seem to keep their focus at full strength, giving up goofy goals (like Fedotenko’s second of the night).
That 5-on-3 power play goal, however, would be the last scored by one of the East’s most offensively gifted squads. After that goal, the Sabres turned their A-game on and never looked back. Ales Kotalik scored his seventh of the season with what the team has been looking to score more of: an ugly goal. Buffalo was on the attack and was able to keep the puck in the Pittsburgh zone. Kotalik fought off several Penguins players in the corner and passed it to Adam Mair, who kicked it to Maxim Afinogenov behind the net. It was stolen away briefly by Orpik, but Mair stole it back right in front of the net and put it toward the net. Kotalik swooped to push it past Sabourin despite the chaos in the crease.
Buffalo tied it up with 5 minutes and 11 seconds before the final intermission with another ugly goal, this time off the stick of Daniel Paille. The Sabres established offensive control after Clarke MacArthur and Paille entered the zone on a give-and-go. Spacek prevented a clearing attempt and passed it across the blue line to Captain Craig Rivet. He took the puck up the left side and past a sprawled Maxim Talbot, who went down to block the fake shot. His real shot deflected off MacArthur’s stick and went toward the net. Paille was able to come in from behind the scramble and slap the puck in the loose change, cashing in on his third of the season.
Both teams had chances in the third, but only the Sabres were able to put one away. Thomas Vanek scored his 20th goal of the season 6 minutes and 13 seconds into the period, retaking the league lead. Jason Pomminville entered the Penguins zone and fired a pass across ice to Hecht. Sabourin gave up a rebound on the shot that came after, and Pomminville swung out from behind the net to take possession. Vanek was streaking up the ice toward the net and was able to put Pomminville’s pass behind the Pittsburgh netminder and take the lead for the first and final time. It was almost as though Buffalo stole the play right out of the Penguins playbook, and executed it perfectly.
The Sabres put the clamps down defensively and the Penguins were visibly frustrated. They were given an opportunity to score on the power play after a high-sticking call was made on Gerbe. Oddly enough, the official had the arm up for the delayed call, but the Sabres made several passes before play was stopped, making it look like the Penguins were going to end up shorthanded. Miller even made it to the bench. Regardless, the Buffalo players did a great job keeping Pittsburgh from getting set up. Paul Gaustad, who played hard all night, dove onto his stomach to clear the puck out of the zone at one point.
When the Penguins finally pulled their goaltender, they didn’t get much of anything set up until the last few moments. Both Vanek and Kotalik had an opportunity to get the insurance goal, but both missed the wide-open net. The final scramble led to a scrum after time expired, when the puck made it into the net after the buzzer. Regardless, the Sabres came out victorious and left the Mellon Arena with 2 much needed points.
Buffalo played a physical game, throwing 32 hits. It got under the skin of the opposition, who only threw 20. Gaustad put a crushing hit on Ben Lovejoy and started a chain of events that led to an undisciplined cross-checking penalty on Malkin. Miller also stood tall, stoning Sidney Crosby on a breakaway. None of the 3 goals scored on him were his fault, really. The lack of effort put into blocking pinpoint cross-ice passes was the real culprit.
Coming back from behind isn’t Buffalo’s strong suit this year, but if they can match the level of effort displayed tonight in every contest there’s no reason why they can’t improve their record. They don’t have to wait long to try – they play Tampa Bay on home ice Wednesday.

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