Sabres Flip Caps “Upside Down”

Confidence appears to be just what the Buffalo Sabres needed to secure their first home victory of the 2010-11 season tonight against the Washington Capitals at the HSBC Arena. The final decision was 3-2, with the winner by Thomas Vanek a minute to go in the overtime period.

“We had them pretty much right where we wanted them, right on the perimeter most of the time,” said starting goaltender Ryan Miller, who rejoined Buffalo’s lineup tonight due to a four-game hiatus after suffering a lower-body injury.

Miller’s most memorable save of the night was robbing star Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin of a breakaway goal 15 minutes into the first period. The move also appears to be the point in the matchup when the Sabres found their place and began powering full-speed ahead.

After the first 20 minutes of play, the score read 1-0 in favor of Washington. Defenseman Karl Alzner scored on a screenshot, making him the sixth d-man to score for his club in the past seven games.

Tyler Myers being on the ice at the time of the Capitals’ goal continues to beg the question: Is the most recent NHL Rookie of the Year ready to lead Buffalo’s defensemen? Considering his so-so performance overall so far this season-maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the absence of his mentor, former linemate Henrik “Hank” Tallinder, is affecting Myers more than he realized. Only time will tell.

Just four minutes into the second period, Buffalo was given a four minute advantage over Washington due to Jason Chimera earning two minors penalties. Now, players are not going to score unless they shoot when they have the chance. Pass, shoot, and  score.

“The main focus is one or two quick passes, and then hammer the puck,” Vanek said following the game.

Exactly, Thomas. But easier said than done. Perhaps you should give a locker room seminar on the topic at practice next week…and take your own advice along with everyone else. However, the Sabres’ power play improved as the game against Washington went on.

Buffalo unfortunately remained scoreless throughout their longest advantage of the contest; however, fans would hear the puck blast against the Washington goalpost a few minutes later. A close opportunity? No, the tying goal. Steve Montador fired a one-timer in from the blue line past Caps rookie goaltender Braden Holtby for his 100th career point and second of the season.

Vanek went forth to snag his first point of the night after his team’s loss Thursday night with Buffalo’s first power play goal in 18 chances. Penalized was Capital Tomas Fleischmann, who nicked the chin of Tyler Ennis with a high stick. Ennis was treated on the bench and returned to play soon after. It’s a good thing he wasn’t seriously injured-he has 10 points this season, placing him fourth after Derek Roy, Jordan Leopold, and Vanek. Ennis is a slippery little guy, always finding ways to sneak the puck around the opposing defensemen-a true asset to his team.

Washington tied the game at two with over half of the final period underway. 22-year-old Niklas Backstrom blasted one top shelf on Miller, who probably could have stopped it-but it didn’t matter in the end. Neither team was able to break the tie in regulation, forcing overtime.

No shootout necessary.

Vanek beautifully deked the puck and put it past Holtby to secure the win and his second point of the night. Vanek needed his goals tonight just as badly as Buffalo needed the home ice victory. It’s been somewhat of a difficult season for him, as many of his shots have been stopped on numerous occasions when they could have easily been goals.

“[I] just keep going. I stay pretty positive even though I do get frustrated with myself sometimes. It’s a big two points for us,” said Vanek in the locker room after his win. “Finally, I got one bounce and I was able to put it away, so it felt good.”

Vanek went on to offer additional advice for the team: ““Just get pucks to the net and good things will eventually happen.”

If they take that advice and play like they did tonight, let’s hope the Sabres can get out of their 15 point funk (10 points behind the reigning Capitals, who managed to earn a point in the overtime loss) and move on up.

NHL Milestone

Prior to the puck drop, the league and team recognized Mike Grier for playing in his 1000th NHL game on November 3rd. Grier joined the Sabres in 2003 after being drafted by St. Louis in 1992. Only 250 other players have accomplished this milestone. For the special recognition, Grier’s wife and two children came onto the ice. He was given a crystal award, a gorgeous silver hockey stick, and the jersey he wore in his 1000th game in a frame.

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