In what appeared to be another late rally by the Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Hendricks quieted the capacity crowd at the HSBC Arena, beating Patrick Lalime in the 11th round of a sudden-death shootout to earn a 4-3 victory Saturday night.

Hendricks faked a wrist shot in the slot to freeze Lalime, and then buried a backhand in the open cage.

“Well, it’s a lot of fun,” said Lalime of the shootout finish. “It would have been a lot more fun if we would have won.”

The Sabres’ backup made 27 saves in the loss, and remains one win shy of his 200th career NHL victory.

“He played really well,” said Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur. “It’s too bad we couldn’t get him one in the shootout. He made a lot of great saves and he battled hard tonight.”

Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek, and Jochen Hecht scored for Buffalo in the shootout, but goaltender Craig Anderson stymied the rest of the Sabres’ shooters—including MacArthur—ending Buffalo’s win streak at six games.

After a poor start in the game’s first 40, Buffalo roared back with two goals in the third to tie the contest at three apiece. Vanek banked in his own rebound following a nifty pass from line mate Drew Stafford halfway through the third to narrow the deficit to one goal. Hecht then evened the score when his screened wrist shot from the point found the mesh.

“Obviously, we came out better in the second and third and we worked hard,” MacArthur said. “It’s just disappointing to have that slow start. We were all over them in the third. Anderson played really well to keep him in at the end.”

Colorado was able to get on the board first when Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder coughed up the puck inside his own end. Consequently, Matt Duchene received a one-timed pass from Hendricks to beat a sprawling Lalime.

Less than six minutes later it was Duchene again who buried a loose puck in a mad scramble around the Buffalo goal. Duchene, NHL’s rookie of the month for December, now has seven goals and 15 points since Dec. 2.

“Our execution early in the game wasn’t very good again,” said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. “We had some guys missing passes, we had passes that any team, any player at this level should be able to make and should be able to catch. And when you miss those passes early you just give up possession. And I don’t think our possession was very good.”

The Sabres finally got on the board late in the second frame when center Paul Gaustad found Stafford in the slot for a one-timer past Anderson on the power play. Colorado, however, would answer back just 62 seconds later when Brandon Yip ripped a quick wrist shot past the stick side of Lalime to regain the two-goal lead.

In the third period, Ruff switched to two five-man units, and eventually it paid off.

“I think sometimes the five-man units, which has been used in the past—I think Detroit was the most famous team for using them—if you can breed a little familiarity, you can do a lot of cheating, you can do a lot rotating,” Ruff said.

In the late goings, Ruff paired Tallinder and Tyler Myers with the Connolly, Hecht, and Jason Pominville line, which was responsible for the game-tying goal. Hecht’s shot from the point was ironically screened by Tallinder in front to beat Anderson high glove side.

“I thought in the third period we generated some pretty good momentum,” Ruff said. “Once we scored the goal we got them on their heels and looked like we had a shot at coming back.”

The Sabres will get a rest Sunday, he said, before three-straight days of practice prior to the team’s annual West Coast road trip.

Buffalo will travel to Atlanta to play the Thrashers on Thursday and to Long Island to play the Islanders on Saturday before five-straight against Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Vancouver.

"I think it’s good to get some rest and practice," Lalime said. "I think even at this time of the year you want to make sure you’re sharp—big road trip coming up. We’re going to recharge the battery and make sure we’re ready for the big road trip.”

 

This article is featured in The Record Student Press at Buffalo State College.

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Without a doubt, the key to the Buffalo Sabres' success has been Ryan Miller.

His .935 save percentage—tops in the NHL.  A GAA of just over 2—bested by only Antti Niemi's 1.82 and Tuuka Rask's 1.92.  His five shutouts tie him with Ilya Bryzgalov and future Hall of Famer Marty Brodeur for the league lead.  Only Brodeur (27) has more wins this year than Miller's 25.

By all accounts, Miller should be a heavy favorite to win the Vezina—and maybe even the Hart—if he continues his exploits.  He stopped 48 out of 50 shots as the Sabres held off the Leafs to win 3-2 on January 8.  Rarely do you see him have an off night, and when he does, you wouldn't know it by the way he plays in his next start.

He hasn't been the only driving force behind the Sabres, who have returned to the top of the standings after back-to-back seasons missing the postseason.

That's where Tyler Myers enters the picture.

There have been many times I've listened to the Sabres games and have heard it mentioned that media members of opposing teams have complemented the 19-year-old's play. 

It's hard to believe that Myers is a rookie, even harder to believe that he is as young as he is.  But it has been a while since the Sabres have had a game-changing rookie such as Myers.  He is a plus-9, which is tied for second on the team.  His 26 points is two behind number-one draft pick John Tavares. 

Myers had his best night as a Sabre in the previously mentioned January 8 game, when he scored two goals and tacked on an assist for his first three-point night.  Fans are beginning to call for Sabres G Darcy Regier to lock Myers up for 10-15 years and ensure that the teenager is a Sabre for years to come.

Many have anointed Tavares as the Calder frontrunner.  But it would be foolish to not include Myers in the discussion.  Only two Sabres have won the award—Hall of Famer Gilbert Perralut and Tom Barrasso.  Nine defensemen in history have won it—the 1966-67 winner, a 19-year-old by the name of Bobby Orr, went on to have a pretty good career in the league.

The Sabres are still flawed.  Their power play has been less than stellar, but it is starting to come around.  Their big money players, namely Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy, havem't played to expectations.

But Sabres fans are hoping for the one time this season when it all comes together.  Then, there's no telling how far this team will go—maybe winning the one trophy that has evaded them all these years—the Stanley Cup.

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As I continue to learn more about hockey, I often find myself almost subconsciously comparing it to soccer.  Perhaps this is inevitable, given that I am English, but the similarities’ between the two games is definitely a factor.

I now realise it is not as simple as this.  For example, one rule I have always applied to soccer is that once your team has a three-goal lead in any game, they are a safe bet to win.

Of late, the Buffalo Sabres have been doing their best to make me realise this theory doesn’t translate to hockey.  Two comeback wins from three-goal deficits will do that.

In hindsight, maybe hockey is better compared to the five-a-side equivalent of soccer: Indoor venue, smaller field, fewer players, more chances and consequently more goals.

However, last night’s matchup between Buffalo and the Toronto Maple Leafs gave me the chance to compare another aspect of hockey to soccer: local rivalries.

In Britain, games between two teams from the same city are often referred to as derbies (apologies to anyone who feels that they have just been patronised).  These fixtures are renowned for the passion that it brings out in local fans. 

Family and friends become divided, no matter how close they are to each other under normal circumstances.  All bets are off as everyone loses any sense of rational thought.  And more often than not, this animosity spills over onto the field between the two sets of players.

With a few notable exceptions (New York Yankees and Mets, Chicago Cubs and White Sox, etc) this doesn’t apply in quite the same way to North American sports.  This is partly due to the size of the country in comparison (meaning many fans don’t travel to away games), as well as the fact that, apart from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, not many cities have more than one team in the same sport.

This is not to say that there aren’t any teams that share a longstanding, bitter rivalry with other clubs.  The best examples that immediately spring to mind are the Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Bears versus the Green Bay Packers and the Boston Celtics versus the Los Angeles Lakers, to name but a few.

And you can't forget rivalries for teams within the same state or province (e.g. the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, etc).

In any event, I watched the game between Buffalo and Toronto, intrigued by what might transpire.  I was hooked from the start.

I appreciate that it can never compare to actually being at a game, but the heated atmosphere was evident, even on the television.  With the possible exception of games in Montreal, nowhere does Toronto enjoy a bigger road support than in Buffalo.

The fans were into the game right from the word go.  Players from both sides fed off the energy from the crowd, resulting in fast-paced, hard-hitting, end-to-end action. 

Another aspect of derby games in Britain is that you can throw the formbook out of the window.  It doesn’t matter which team is better, the other side will always raise their game for local affairs.

This definitely applied to the game in Buffalo, where you wouldn’t have thought that Toronto was 19 points worse off than the opposition.  In fact, overall, the Maple Leafs were the better team on the night.

Ultimately though, Toronto showed exactly why they are near the bottom of the Eastern conference.  Three early power play opportunities yielded nothing.  Buffalo on the other hand, scored goals on each of their first three power plays to take a commanding three-goal advantage.

However, in one final reminder of the comparisons to derby games, Toronto fought back as they tried to prove yet again that my theory regarding three-goal leads was redundant for the NHL.  Two goals had everyone (including me) on the edge of their seat right to the very last second.

In the end, thanks to the outstanding play of goaltender Ryan Miller, the Sabres hung on for a hard-earned victory, much to the delight of the home fans.

The last live NHL game I went to was Toronto’s 2008-09 season-opener at home to Montreal.  However, after last night’s game, I will be doing everything within my power to attend a game between Buffalo and Toronto in the very near future, (preferably at the HSBC Arena) in part to savour the atmosphere of a compelling rivalry.

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This article could get ugly. Not literally, but I really don't expect any compliments, at least, coming in that comments section down below. NHL Jersey Rankings have surprisingly been on the rise recently in terms of input, but I don't think there's been one like this. But, no, I'm not just doing it to stir up some talk. I really do think that "slug" in Buffalo deserves to be among the top, maybe even the best...you'll just have to read and see. These rankings were determined by a combination of both home and away rankings, both of which are entirely my opinion only. So, go ahead and enjoy...and remember that this is me, not you. So you don't have to agree, because that's not my job. But do put in your feelings if you want in the comments section...that's what it's for!

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Recently, the theme for the Buffalo Sabres appears to have centered on records and milestones.

Two straight 4-3 victories over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Atlanta Thrashers marked the first time in their history that Buffalo had won consecutive games after recovering from a three-goal deficit. 

The three-goal blitz in the first 2:11 of their 5-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning was the fastest three-goal start in franchise history. 

Lindy Ruff earned his 465th victory with the win against Tampa Bay.  This moved him into sole position of fourth place for career wins with one team.  The Sabres' head coach now needs another 35 victories to match Toe Blake's 500 wins with the Montreal Canadiens.

(Speaking of Ruff, he was part of Buffalo's previous record for their quickest three-goal start, scoring the second of the Sabres' three goals in the first 2:17 during a game against the New York Islanders in 1980.)

Now, as the Sabres prepare for back-to-back games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche, another milestone is within reach.  Backup goaltender Patrick Lalime needs one more win to reach 200 for his career.

To put this into perspective, only 65 goaltenders have reached 200 victories in the history of the NHL.  Interestingly, Lalime also holds the record for the longest unbeaten start to a career (14-0-2).

Overall, the former Pittsburgh draft pick has a career record of 199-163, as well as 40 ties and 15 overtime or shootout losses.

Ruff has already announced that his No. 2 net-minder will start in one of the two games this weekend.  However, despite the fact that Colorado is the stronger opponent, Ryan Miller is apparently in line to start in goal tonight against Toronto. 

With one of the better road records this season (13-8-4), the Avalanche will provide tough opposition for the Sabres.  However, Lalime has been on fire of late, going 3-0-1 in his last four outings (including a 1.34 GAA and .960 save percentage).

Talking about the Quebec native's performances of late, including the game against Pittsburgh, Ruff told the Associated Press, "Everybody on the team is happy for him.  He’s a good guy, but to be able to step in and win games and help us dig one out of a pretty big hole was important for us."

The Sabres desperately need to continue their recent momentum by winning both games this weekend and, in the process, giving 35-year-old Lalime his milestone.  Certainly, few players are more deserving than the Quebec native, and it could set the team up perfectly before they embark on their season-defining seven-game road trip.

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If you ask me, I would say the Buffalo Sabres have the biggest opportunity they've had for success in a while. They're winning games by playing well on both sides of the ice, mainly the defensive side.

Their goalie, Ryan Miller, is the best in the NHL right now, leading the league in save percentage and coming in second in GAA (I don't count Rask because he's only played in 18 games). However, that's something you probably already know.

The Sabres' defense has been the storyline around the team for the entire season. The Sabres are showing why a solid defense beats a solid offense.

Right now, Buffalo's offense is 15th in the NHL, with 2.74 goals per game. That's worse than Florida (12th), Philadelphia (ninth), and Atlanta (fifth).

The thing about those three teams is that they are out of the top eight. They have been scoring a lot, but have not been able to play solid defense.

If you were to ask me, I'd say that they had the saying backwards. The best offense is actually a strong defense.

I talked about this in another article that I wrote (read article ) that talked about the new NHL, and how the biggest mistake with the new rules is the emphasis on offense.

The Sabres have shown that to be true during the first half of the season. Their offense is 15th in the NHL, but they are still second in the Eastern Conference.

You compare this to other teams that are beating the Sabres in offense, but aren't even in the top eight because their offense can't keep up with the mistakes of their defense. Buffalo has figured out the system they need to win.

Honestly, I think that it's a really good thing that they can score over 30 fewer goals than the Capitals, and still be ahead of them in the standings.

I'm going to say the same thing as everybody else: The Sabres will go far because of a strong defense.

See more of my NHL opinions at Tips for Hockey

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One of the inevitabilities of spending Christmas with my girlfriend’s family is that at some point, a game of Monopoly will break out.  Call it tradition if you will.  This year, the game went on far too long, finishing after three o’clock in the morning.  (In my opinion, board games should not be allowed to last longer than two hours max.)

Why am I telling you this?  Well, New Years Day resulted in another late night, as I watched Buffalo play Atlanta.  And the way the game panned out reminded me of Monopoly as the Sabres elected to play their ‘get out of jail’ card and steal the victory from a stunned Thrashers team.

What’s that old saying?  “Sometimes, I’d rather be lucky than good.”  This was definitely the case with Buffalo last night, who had no business winning this game. 

In fact, the winning goal in overtime illustrated this point perfectly as the puck took a crazy bounce off of the boards and fell into the lap of Derek Roy, who couldn’t miss the open goal to win the game. 

“That was the most wide-open net I’ve gotten in my career,” Roy said after the game.  “I got a lucky bounce off the glass. It was a good bounce for us.”  (The first contender of 2010 for 'understatement of the year')

And in another comparison to the 1990 Bills team this marked the third successive game in which the Sabres won despite trailing after two periods.  (The Bills had three successive come-from-behind victories against the Broncos, Raiders and Jets.)

I realise that the Hockey season lasts just a little bit longer than Football, but the parallels must surely be causing a sense of excitement in Western New York.  The never-say-die attitude of this Sabres squad is impressive.

The win against the Thrashers also set a franchise mark, as the first time in their history Buffalo had won two straight games after recovering from three-goal deficits.

As I discover more about this team, I became intrigued by the reaction of head coach Lindy Ruff in his post-game interview.  In particular, his demeanour couldn’t have been more different in comparison to the Penguins game.

Ruff, while relieved with the win against Atlanta, was not nearly as happy with the way the team played and you could sense it in the way he spoke.   “We’re not going to keep coming back from 3-0.  We’re right on the cusp of either getting it figured out and going one way or looking pretty bad.”

Ruff knew that they had been fortunate to win the game.  Interestingly, the interview started later than usual and I suspect it was because he was giving his squad a ‘right bollocking’ as we call it in England.

Despite the sense of déjà vu Ruff also proved that he doesn’t let his emotions rule his head.  It would have been easy to once again replace Ryan Miller with Patrick Lalime when the score got to 3-0. 

However, the head coach knew that his goaltender couldn’t really be blamed for any of the goals this time, as Miller was left exposed time and again by his defense.  With 32 stops overall Miller had some key saves that kept the Sabres in the game.

A lot of fans may be concerned by Buffalo’s recent habit of starting games slowly.  But in an attempt to give the glass-half-full viewpoint, at least the team is starting to score a few more goals. 

Buffalo may well still need to try and sign some more firepower, but 13 goals in three games has to give at least some cause for optimism.  And the three straight come-from-behind victories more than proves the team’s character and mental resolve.

Unfortunately, I will soon be back at university, which means going to bed at a more reasonable hour.  However, I will do my best to keep an eye on a Sabres team that has helped to give me a new-found appreciation for the NHL.

Happy New Year everyone!

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