By Kyle Gunn-Taylor:
The red-hot Detroit Red Wings (16-8-1) made it a chilling start to the month of December for the Buffalo Sabres (14-11-1) with a 4-1 trouncing, Friday.
Detroit swirled into the First Niagara Center with one of the light gusts of flurries sweeping over the city and a 6-game winning streak on the line.
Throughout the game Detroit dominated the Sabres with lightning quick puck movement and solid goaltending from Jimmy Howard, proving the Sabres have a long way to go to become a Stanley Cup contender in the process. “It’s tough to play that team when you have a full roster,” said Sabres Head Coach, Lindy Ruff “They’re not an easy team to play against.”
Young defenseman Jakub Kindl, 24, opened the scoring in the first period with an awkward point shot that found its way past Jhonas Enroth through a crowd.
Then at 13:38, Johan Franzen played the role of sniper when he fired a rocket-shot into the top corner on the power play. The reeling Sabres went into the first intermission down three after Valtteri Filppula scored just over a minute later on a nice feed from Henrik Zetterberg.
As both teams retreated to their respective locker rooms after the first period, cheers from the surprisingly well represented Red Wings fans almost over powered the justifiable jeers from disappointed Sabres fans.
For the rest of the contest the Sabres seemed to be skating in mud, Detroit won all the races to loose pucks and peppered Enroth with quality shots. Most of the 35 shots he faced came from high scoring chance areas of the ice.
There were moments where the Sabres mustered up some offensive pressure, but Howard nearly had all the answers as he stopped 27-of-28 total shots in the game.
The Sabres got a little healthier Saturday, as Ryan Miller returned between the pipes after missing 9-games due to a concussion he suffered on November 12th.
The injury occurred when Boston Bruins power forward, Milan Lucic ran into Miller delivering a controversial blow. The Sabres drew criticism from fans and hockey pundits alike for their lack of a physical response to Lucic’s malicious hit in that game.
Late in the second period Saturday, Predators tough-guy Jordin Tootoo tested the Sabres mettle again, but this time the team responded in stark contrast with an adequate retaliation. “I was ready for that one and got my hands up” Miller said of the hit, “I just got right in the mix after that, I’ve got to do the same thing, I can’t let guys take advantage of me.”
As Tootoo streaked down the left wing around the defense he saw an opportunity to go hard to the net, but in doing so, he let his momentum propel him through the Sabres All-Star goalie as the two of them crashed to the ice.
A melee ensued and Miller led a pile of Sabres players on top of Tootoo who all took shots at him as he huddled to defend himself next to the net.
As a result of the play, Tootoo was ejected from the game and given a 10-minute misconduct. Sabres, Paul Gaustad was also given a 10-minute misconduct penalty for his hand in the skirmish.
The Sabres also responded on the scoreboard in the back and forth contest that ended with the Sabres taking home a 3-2 win.
Luke Adam opened the scoring for the Sabres on a pretty passing play from Ville Leino, fellow youngster Zack Kassian later buried a pretty goal in all alone on Nashville goalie Andres Lindback to give the Sabres a 2-goal lead after one period.
It took the Predators until the third to solve Miller when Craig Smith potted a feed from David Legwand for a power play tally.
Sabres forward, Tyler Ennis had a chance in the third where he ducked Lindback racing out of his crease for an errant puck, but as he walked in on the goalie-less net, two Preds defensemen clogged the shooting lanes and Ennis hesitated too long to even get a shot off.
The crafty little winger made up for the gaff a few shifts later when he scored what would prove to be the game winning goal.
Legwand would score a late goal on Miller, but the Sabres held on for the bounce back win after a dismal game, Friday.
As the Sabres push towards the New Year, there are a few aspects in which they need to drastically improve. The most immediate concern is beyond their control, but they need they need to get key players healthy.
Tyler Myers D, Jordan Leopold D, Cody McCormick F and Patrick Kaleta have all missed time due to various ailments.
The team has struggled mightily on the power play as of late. Over the last 5-games the Sabres are 0-for-16 and Ruff needs to find a way to spark his club with the man-advantage.
Missing two of his more offensive defensemen in Leopold and Myers, Ruff could use rookie Brayden McNabb’s offensive prowess to ignite the power play on the point.
The NHL’s longest tenured coach may also want to consider using a big body in the net front to cause more traffic for the opposing goalie to battle through. Either Luke Adam or Zack Kassian could fill this role, as the two young talents have shown a knack for finding the back of the net so far this year.
Another area the Sabres have been consistently inconsistent is at home, where they are 6-8-1 on the season.
Maybe the royal treatment they receive at the First Niagara Center since Terry Pegula has taken over as owner has the team a little too comfortable. Should this trend of losing at home continue, Lindy may want to think about letting the opponents dress in the newly revamped locker room and make his guys use the much less luxurious visitor’s dressing room.
Probably not a viable solution, but it would be interesting to see how the team would react to such a drastic measure. The Sabres begin a 5-game home stand starting Wednesday, against the Philadelphia Flyers. Perhaps a 5-game skid may entice the locker room switch?
Sabres vs Red Wings Box Score – ESPN
Sabres vs Predators Box Score – ESPN
Sabres Team Schedule – ESPN
NHL League Standings – ESPN
Sabres Team Stats – ESPN
Ryan Miller Postgame Interview 12/3/11 – WGR550.com