The Buffalo Sabres took the ice last night at the First Niagara Center, but to the crowd watching in the arena and at home, this was not the Sabres they were used to seeing.
Buffalo shot out of the gate, and rarely let up in the energy department, treating their home audience to a hard-fought victory 3-1 over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the debut of new head coach Ted Nolan, and the first game of the Pat LaFontaine regime.
Nolan's impact on the team was immediate, and he seemed to know all the right buttons to press in his first NHL game since 2008, whether it was knowing how to keep the energy up, which line to put out, or being smart enough to take John Scott off the ice with the last change when necessary.
His team responded by playing an exciting, back and forth game that featured plenty of shots and hits, but no fights between the top two brawling teams in the NHL. I think this tweet from The Goose's Roost sums things up nicely:
List of current Sabres playing their best game of the year tonight: all of them.— Ryan Nagelhout (@goosesroost) November 16, 2013
Ott comes to play
Steve Ott had been drawing some criticism from fans and media over the past few weeks for being, well, very un-Ott-like. He wasn't chirping opponents, wasn't hustling like crazy, wasn't scoring, and wasn't being his general ratty self. Last night, the Ott we fell in love with made his triumphant return; the Sabres captain was all over the ice, yapping away and scoring the Sabres first goal while assisting on the game winner. Ott is a Ted Nolan-type player through and through (shades of Matt Barnaby, anyone?) so it will be exciting to see how or if he flourishes under the new Sabres coach.
Ehrhoff saves the game, then clinches it
Toronto had a beauty of a chance to score in the final minute, with the extra attacker on the ice and a wide open Sabres net thanks to a juicy rebound. Then, out of nowhere, the clouds parted and Christian Ehrhoff's foot blocked what would have been the game tying goal. Second later, Ehrhoff, won the battle for the puck and flung it down the ice and into the net for the clincher and his first goal of the year.
Sabres defensemen pinch aggressively
All night, Buffalo's blueliners were jumping up into the play to help support their forwards - far more than they had been doing under Ron Rolston. In fact, there were five or six times where the man screening the goalie on a point shot was Tyler Myers, Mark Pysyk, or Henrik Tallinder. For his part, Myers played a great game - he did have one bad giveaway, but immediately followed it up with a big hit that allowed his partner to clear the puck.
1. Will the coaching change have an immediate impact on the on-ice product?
Yes. Oh, yes. The Sabres played what might have been their most complete, 60-minute game of the season, and the FNC crowd responded in kind. Cheering their team to the locker room in between periods, the building was buzzing all night thanks to a hard working team that laid some big hits, forechecked well, and held on to a third period lead for their first home win in regulation. Welcome back, Ted.
2. How will Ville Leino and Zemgus Girgensons fare at center?
Not bad, but not great either. Both players had their little moments, but their lines didn't do anything that stood out. It's only one game, so we'll be sure to keep an eye on this over the next few contests.
3. Considering what happened the last time these teams met, will we see any fireworks on the ice between these two teams?
Surprisingly no. There were some big hits and a few scrums in front of the net, but nothing that resulted in any major penalties. The two teams play again tonight, so perhaps we'll see some bad blood carry over.
2. - 33 saves and a .970 save percentage
3. Drew Stafford - registered a great assist on the game winner, and actually played with some fire in his belly
Comment of the Game
Everybody at the bowling alley cheered!!!
Courtesy of Sabres.com