Sabres Week Three: Shark Attack and a Glimpse of the Future!

McDavid Put on a Show for Buffalo fans - photo from prohockeytalk.com

McDavid Put on a Show for Buffalo fans – photo from prohockeytalk.com

It’s been a great week for Buffalo sports. The Bills got a HUGE division win over the Jets, which capped off a Sabres victory in San Jose as predicted, and last Tuesday, we got a glimpse of our prize – the treasure for our seasons of toil, as Connor McDavid and his Erie Otters put on one heck of a show at the First Niagara Center. Despite the daunting West Coast trip that lay ahead, Buffalo was finally excited about hockey for a night.

After taking a few days off to travel to sunny California, the Sabres suited up to face the Anaheim Ducks, who had come to Buffalo and embarrassed the team nine days earlier, prompting head coach Ted Nolan to compare his team to pee-wee players. The team would show a better effort in this game but could not best Corey Perry’s hat trick as the Sabres fell 4-1. The game was physically even, and despite nearly 200 minutes without a goal, the Sabres were able to score late and keep this game within their reach. At times they tested Ducks’ netminder, Frederik Anderson; though, their shot count was once again below 25 for the game, hitting double digits only in the third period. The penalty kill continued its brilliance, keeping the Ducks’ power play unit off of the scoreboard. The 4-1 score doesn’t necessarily tell the story of the game, and so it was a decent start to the week out west.

Quick Stops Stewart en route to his 33rd Career Shutout.  Photo from wggb.com

Quick Stops Stewart en route to his 33rd Career Shutout. Photo from wggb.com

The next night, the Sabres took I-5 north to Los Angeles to face the Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings. The Sabres again played a more even game against the championship caliber competition but were blanked for the third time in four games, with Jonathan Quick getting his team-record-setting 33rd career shutout in the 2-0 victory. Both goals came on the power play for the Kings, which was unusual for this Buffalo team. Perhaps, of all of the negative aspects of the Sabres play thus far, the PK unit is a particular point of pride. Despite being in the bottom third of the league in penalty kills with 33, the Sabres are eighth in PK percentage – just barely beneath the Kings and contending with powerhouse teams like Chicago and Colorado. The Sabres ice time leader Tyler Myers, who is a key player in the special teams units, was in the box for both Kings’ goals; this note may be one of the reasons Myers’ name is plastered all over the rumor mill. Despite his shortcomings, he is becoming a dependable defenseman who can log major time and still have the fortitude to join the rush coming out of the zone.

After a day off on Friday, the Sabres travelled to San Jose for an afternoon affair with the Sharks. The stage was set for a major upset; the Sharks were reeling from a three game skid, and the Sabres had owned the Sharks the previous year. Despite the losses to Anaheim and LA, the team had a chance to steal a win and did not allow the opportunity to pass them by. The first two periods were a gritty affair, few mistakes were made, and so the shot totals were low. Finally, 3:43 into the third, the Sabres opened the scoring when Cody Hodgson tucked the puck behind back-up goalie Alex Stalock. The scoring onslaught would continue as — just over two minutes later — Nicolas Deslauriers would snag a rebound and bury the puck, securing the win for the Sabres. Despite the quick comeback goal from the Sharks’ Brent Burns, the Sabres would hold on to win 2-1 with Michal Neuvirth earning his first win of the season.

Neuvirth Gets His First Win! Photo from prohockeytalk.com

Neuvirth Gets His First Win! Photo from prohockeytalk.com

Through week two, special teams play continues to be an area of brilliance as well as concern. The Sabres’ penalty kill unit has given the fans a glimmer of hope to hold onto; at least we’re not the worst team in EVERY category! The Power Play, however, nearly eclipses that brightness. The Sabres are 0/30 – tied with Minnesota for dead last; though, the Wild have played three fewer games and have ten fewer chances. This is a dreadful mark, and here’s hoping we can break this awful curse this week with four games on the slate.

The Sabres open week three at the struggling Maple Leafs, who are 1-4-0 at home  and 3-4-1 overall this year, sitting just one spot up on the Sabres in the Atlantic Division. On paper, the Sabres have a chance in this game, but I think the Leafs will come out strong and look to make a statement in their building; and ultimately, we may not be able to come back if we go down early. The power play could get its first goal in this game though; make sure you tune in for that! Thursday, the Bruins return to the FNC, and I anticipate a bloodbath similar to the 4-0 loss suffered in week one. Saturday, the team heads to Pittsburgh. The Penguins have handled the lower-echelon teams they’ve played so far, and I expect they’ll do the same in this game. Finally, the Sabres end their week Sunday in a late afternoon affair with the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit’s offensive output is low so far this season, but the Wings goaltending has been excellent, with both keepers under 2.00 GAA. They are an excellent puck possession team and will likely wear the Sabres down, causing breakdowns in the zone and likely another Sabres loss.

As the Sabres took the ice to begin the 2014 season, the team looked vastly different from its previous line-ups. The solid play out west is an indicator that the team is beginning to gel – to develop that chemistry that is always so important for a hockey team. If the power play can get off the snide, we may be able to grab a win or two this week. Wednesday, the Rochester Americans host the Hamilton Bulldogs at the First Niagara Center, and tickets are still available. If you’re able to attend, you’ll recognize many names as Sabres castaways find a place on the farm team, but you may not recognize the play. The Amerks have been impressive so far this year, and some players that had previously been written off are making a name for themselves in the AHL – Grigorenko and Armia, to name a pair. We may see some of them in the Blue and Gold before long.

Grigorenko and Company  Storm the FNC on Wednesday, October 29th! Photo from Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Grigorenko and Company Storm the FNC on Wednesday, October 29th! Photo from Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

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