In a night full of firsts for the Buffalo Sabres, it was the seconds that told the story.
Tonight marked Buffalo's first game without Thomas Vanek, but with Matt Moulson after yesterday's blockbuster trade with the Islanders. It also marked the first game back in Buffalo for long time player and coach Lindy Ruff since he made a heel turn and joined the Dallas Stars.
In other firsts, the opening period was reminiscent of many we've seen before, and after a short period of self-destruction following a bad Steve Ott slashing/unsportsmanlike combo, the Sabres found themselves outshot and outplayed once again in the first period, down 3-1, with the lone bright spot being Matt Moulson's first goal wearing blue and gold.
The second period, however, saw a resiliency that's been missing from this team all year show itself, and to some great forechecking, timely power play goals, and Matt Moulson's second goal of the night, the Sabres cut the lead to 4-3 by the end of the middle frame, and had the crowd starting to come around.
Sadly, it was not to be, as the hometown team simply couldn't get anything past Kari Lehtonen in the final stanza despite a spirited effort. The arena was buzzing in the final two minutes, but in the end, Lindy Ruff defeated his old team, and the Sabres fell to 2-11-1.
Moulson Makes Immediate Impact
It didn't take Matt Moulson long to make his presence felt in Buffalo. Channeling a certain other #26, he found a soft spot in the Stars zone on his second shift of the game, and one-timed a Tyler Ennis pass over top Kari Lehtonen. Moulson's line (along with Hodgson and Ennis) was making things happen all night, and it paid off with Moulson's second goal of the night late in the third, helped by an excellent forecheck and a very nice battle won in front of the net.
Something Called A Fore...Check?
On multiple occasions, the Sabres actually had the Stars hemmed in to their zone rather than the other way around, and would sometimes take the puck away before it could be thrown in to the neutral zone. This is a foreign concept to most Sabres fans, but I believe it's a strategy known as a...forecheck? Fourcheque? 4-czech? I could be spelling that wrong, but whatever it is, the Sabres were doing it last night. The top line of Moulson-Hodgson-Ennis and the Girgensons-Larsson-Flynn line each had stretches of nice, extended offensive zone pressure. It didn't always lead to goals, but it's something the Sabres must continue to improve on as a team. Tonight was a good start.
Ruff A Class Act
In all his comments over the past 24 hours, Lindy Ruff has been nothing but the A Number 1 human being that Sabres fans have come to know and love. Whether it was taking time to say hi to arena employees and reporters before and after the game, or the kind words he had about his time in Buffalo or the team here, Ruff's return was a nice reminder of why we all loved him so much in the first place.
Three Things We Have Questions About
1.) How will the Buffalo Sabres acknowledge the return of Lindy?
Yes, and it was great. During the first commercial break, the team showed a solid video package of Ruff's highlights as a player and coach, while the crowd gave him a long and loud standing ovation. Ruff watched the video package, then acknowledged the crowd and seemed to have a bit of dust in his eye. It was a nice moment, and hopefully the team releases the video online.
2.) Can the Sabres find any offense tonight?
They did, especially from their top line. Matt Moulson scored two in his Sabres debut and found instant chemistry with his linemates Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis. Steve Ott scored on the power play off a nice feed from Grigorenko, but the man advantage sputtered aimlessly as many times at it looked dangerous tonight. The Sabres were still outshot in the game, though by a much lower margin than usual: 29-23. I suppose that's progress, eh?
3.) How many more Ryan Miller games will we get to see?
Hopefully more than this, because Miller wasn't very sharp tonight in the early going. He let in one very soft goal under the arm that he wanted back as soon as it went past him, and wasn't called on to make any game-saving stops like he has been so often this season. He only faced 29 shots all game, which must have seemed like a walk in the park compared to the usual shots against, and did play a strong second half, but you're not going to go down 4-1 and win many games in the NHL.
2. - a goal and assist
3. - scored the game winner
Comment of the Game
Was just holding him back.
Can't wait to see what Moulson can do now that he's unleashed.
Courtesy of Sabres.com
More from Die By The Blade:
- Sabres Links: Moulson scores two, more trade reactions, Lindy Ruff tribute
- Dallas Stars vs Buffalo Sabres Complete Coverage: Ruff Returns To Buffalo, Moulson Scores Twice In 4-3 Loss
- Recap: Moulson can't outshine Stars in Lindy's return
- Darcy Regier on the Thomas Vanek Trade
- Thomas Vanek traded to Islanders for Matt Moulson, two draft picks