You've got to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky. The Buffalo Sabres were a little of both Wednesday becoming the first team in 11 months to shutout the Washington Capitals. While they did an excellent job of keeping Alexander Ovechkin and company outside of the perimeter, Buffalo was fortunate on a few chances that Washington sent wide of an empty net. And Ryan Miller was there to snag the great opportunities that did head on goal.
All in all, it was the type of win that solidifies a squad as a contender with shot blocking, active sticks and back-checking doing the job. Chicago brings their own brand of firepower into HSBC Arena as the schedule hasn't gotten easier. Substitute Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith.
The Blackhawks defeated Buffalo last year by a 4-1 scoreline but the Sabres have won three of the past four get-togethers. Chicago is 5-0-1 against Eastern Conference oppositions thus far and Buffalo is 5-0 facing the West. This should be an interesting match-up, not to mention very exciting.
Five thoughts on each team below.
Patrick Lalime and Cristobal Huet are your starting netminders. It was assumed Miller would be in for this one giving the back-up tomorrow's showdown in New York. I can see why Lalime is eager to get his first win of the year against his former team but the Sabres will have to play similar to their shutdown format against Washington. Motivation for the goaltender means nothing if he's hung out to dry.
- Chicago has really taken it to another level since the return of Toews and introduction of Hossa. They are 11-2-1 with their captain back in the line-up and the Slovakian has seven points in as many games. By the way, Toews also has 13 points in 14 matches.
- Paul Gaustad has begun skating with the team showing progression but there's no timetable for his return. Regardless, this is a great sign as the Sabres have struggled in the face-off circle without Goose. Mike Grier is expected back possibly Saturday after visiting his mother. In practice yesterday, Tim Connolly felt hip pain and wasn't able to withstand the whole session. Lindy Ruff suspects it's nothing serious and that the center should play. Who knows with Connolly though?
- Overpaid defenseman Brian Campbell is back for the first time in a different jersey. Last year's contest between these franchises was in Chicago so it'll be his only visit since abandoning Buffalo. Expect tons of boo-birds for Campbell and I'm sure Blackhawks fans aren't happy either with the dollars-to-points ratio.
- A goal and an assist were earned by Nathan Gerbe in his first call-up from the AHL. It was only a matter of time before someone got the go-ahead from Portland. As he was instructed to, Gerbe crashed the net despite his lack of size and threw the puck on it from down low for his first career NHL goal. We'll see what he has up his sleeve this time.
- Cristobal Huet owns a 14-6-2 record with a .907 save percentage and 2.18 GAA. Known as somewhat of an enigma, Buffalo would be wise to get pucks at him from various angles and positions. Put the puck on net and good things will happen. The Sabres can't waste time attempting pretty plays and cute ideas.
- In response to a third period benching Monday, Derek Roy sprung a pair of assists and tenacious two-way efforts against Washington. Leading the team in points, the 26-year-old needs to bring that intensity and skill routinely.
- Buffalo native Patrick Kane has his sights on a career campaign with 28 points already in 29 games. He's played the Sabres twice registering one goal. Kane said he expects to get booed in reference to the cab driver incident from the summer.
- Ranked third and sixth in penalty killing, it'll be intriguing to see if either can break through with the man-advantage. Thomas Vanek has four powerplay goals while Toews is up to five. Today would be a good time for Vanek to end his scoring slump. Please?
- Yet to win with Miller on the bench, Buffalo is in for a fight with these Blackhawks who can beat a goaltender in bunches. I hope Lalime is ready because it could be a long evening if he's even a little rusty and the Sabres play the first frame laid back.
Normally, you'd hope to get a lighter match after taking on the Washington Capitals. However, this is a huge opening for the Buffalo Sabres. What better way to prove themselves as a threat than beating both Washington and Chicago in succession?