Sabres Week 14: The Tank is Back!

OLAS.  Remember the name.  Photo from cbssports.com

OLAS. Remember the name. Photo from cbssports.com

Zemgus (hah hah) Girgensoooooons…Before reading onward, click the link. Enjoy.

Welcome back to Buffalo! I hope your stay in Latvia was a relaxing respite from the bitter cold temperatures and poor play by our hockey team. While another Sabre executed a highlight-reel play (more on that later), the team as a whole appears to be but an apparition of the team we saw in November and December – the one that gave us hope in this, the darkest time of the year. Instead, we have Olas, and their bright light shining upon our fair city.

The week opened Tuesday with what, on the surface, was a winnable game in New Jersey. The Devils sit just a few spots above Buffalo in the standings and have a terrible record at home. If Buffalo was going to break its streak, Tuesday was going to be the night; however, Jersey had different ideas. Patrick Elias had a career-defining night, opening the scoring at

Congrats, Grigs, on your first goal of the season.  Photo from Sabres.com

Congrats, Grigs, on your first goal of the season. Photo from Sabres.com

3:44 in the first and adding two assists. The first assist was his 600th of his career, and his second assist was his 1,000th point. He has accomplished this feat in only 1,187 games and has done it all with one team – something we don’t see very often in the free-agent era. Mikhail Grigorenko got his first goal of the season on the power play, but the Sabres PK also gave up a shorty to Travis Zajac, furthering their struggles on special teams this season. Jhonas Enroth looked like a shell of the goalie he had been recently, falling below a .900 GAA for the second time in a week. All three goals allowed came in the first period, and coach Ted Nolan had this to say: “It boils down to mental preparation. We’ve got to be mentally ready to start. We’ve got to be mentally ready to know our assignments. We’ve got to be prepared. This is the National Hockey League.”

Thursday night, the Sabres travelled down the Atlantic coast to face off against the Carolina Hurricanes. The game is generally akin to a home game for the Sabres, with Buffalo transplants outnumbering true Carolinians. Buffalo’s home record is nearly .500, so the team may have had some confidence coming into the game. The first period was promising, as the Sabres held the Canes scoreless; however, less than five minutes into the second, Jeff Skinner would break his seven-game pointless streak. Rochester call-up Phil Varone responded less than a minute later, but Carolina would score three goals in less than 1:20 and take a 4-1 lead into intermission. Varone would get his second of the game in the third, but the Canes would score again, dashing all hopes for a comeback. Enroth’s game was again off, allowing five goals on 31 shots for a .839 GAA. With the win, Carolina came within one point of overtaking Buffalo and relinquishing the coveted Eichel spot in the league standings.

Entroth has been a sieve lately. Photo from mercedsunstar.com

Entroth has been a sieve lately. Photo from mercedsunstar.com

Buffalo closed out the week with the second half of a back-to-back, travelling to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning who are perched atop the Eastern Conference and third in the league – two points shy of Anaheim and Nashville. The Lightning are the highest scoring team in the league, and the Sabres had been outscored by a 20-goal margin in their last six games (27 GA, 7 GF). The table was set for another blowout, but coach Ted Nolan thought it was time for a shake-up, giving Michal Neuvirth the nod in net and changing up the lines a bit. The moves paid off, and the Sabres special teams stood out. The Lightning’s high-powered power play went 0-4, and the Sabres’ Cody McCormick netted a short-handed goal, which was his first goal of the season. It didn’t take Tampa long to light the lamp as Filppula scored just 3:51 into the game, but for the first time in a long time, the Sabres didn’t fall apart after going down. McCormick’s goal came less than a minute into the second, and that score would stand until 14:42 into the third, when Steven Stamkos shelved a great shot over a sliding Neuvirth. In between these goals, the Lightning kept constant zone pressure, shelling the Sabres goalie time and time again.

Save of the year.  Gif from sbnation.com

Save of the year. Gif from sbnation.com

But Neuvirth stood tall and saved them all, including an amazing save on Brett Connolly. Connolly had beat Zadorov, and — bearing down on Neuvirth — deked left to pull the goalie out of position. Neuvirth bit hard but recovered and trapped the puck beneath his glove and, pulling it into his leg pad, kept the score 1-1. Connolly was skating away, stick raised in victory, but his celebration was brief and pointless.

Yet another tough week came to an end without a Sabres victory. Looking back though, Neuvirth had returned to form, coming back to the brick wall we’d seen before he was injured in late November and making what could possibly stand up as the save of the year. Captain Brian Gionta and Forward Torrey Mitchell have returned to practice from their injuries. The Sabres sit only two points from the McDavid spot, a position that we were positive they’d never see again. And, of course, Olas. Can we claim moral victories this week? At the very least, we can claim morale victories.

Hopefully Zee can get back on the scoresheet.  Photo from gannett-cdn.com

Hopefully Zee can get back on the scoresheet. Photo from gannett-cdn.com

It’s going to be a long week for Buffalo. They’ve got four games in six nights – opening and closing the week against Detroit with the latter being the backside of a back-to-back. To date, we’ve split our series with the Wings; most recently, Zee secured the winning point in a shootout on home ice. Tuesday’s game is here in Buffalo, and, as mentioned, we’re nearly .500 at home. I think we can split these two Detroit games. Thursday, the Sabres will face off against the Minnesota Wild who have had some struggles this season but have remained in the hung. At this time, they’ve got 15 more first period goals than the Sabres, and this week has shown what can happen if the Sabres get down big early in a game. Saturday has Buffalo hosting Philly for the first time this season. The Flyers hold an eight-point lead on the Sabres but have scored 40 more goals than Buffalo on the season, and Enroth is going to have to start one of these games – I presume it will be this one. Philly’s hot-and-cold goaltending may catch a winter warmer here. Buffalo fans may be finding some comfortable seats in the basement by week’s end.

MurrayTank.jpg

Eichel or McDavid? – Photo via sabres.nhl.com

 

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