Special Teams Help Sabres Oust Flyers
On the strength of one goal apiece from their power play and penalty killing units, the Buffalo Sabres (2-1-0-1) scored a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers (1-1-2-0) in front of 16,659 fans Wednesday night at HSBC Arena.
The matchup was the teams' first since the Sabres ended the Flyers' season last year in the playoffs with an 8-0 drubbing in game six of their first-round series.
Sabres captain Stu Barnes made it a 1-0 hockey game by scoring Buffalo's fourth power play goal of the season from the side of the net at the 5:32 mark of the first period. Barnes had not intended to shoot the puck, but rather to feather it across the crease to Slava Kozlov, when it hit Flyers captain Eric Desjardins' stick and snuck behind goaltender Brian Boucher. It was the third-straight game that Philadelphia has surrendered the first goal.
Solid defensive play and strong goalkeeping helped the Sabres retain their one-goal lead through the second period. Starting goaltender Martin Biron was excellent, making a big save on a breakaway by Jan Hlavac to keep his team ahead. Buffalo had several chances to extend their lead, but Boucher stood strong in the net for Philadelphia.
"I thought we came out flying, we had a better jump than them. If Boucher didn't make some of the saves he made early on, we could have been ahead by a lot more," said Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff.
Boucher started his second game of the season in place of Roman Cechmanek.
The Sabres went on to take a 2-0 lead late in the second on a shorthanded goal by Miroslav Satan. Satan circled into the high slot and used nice stick work to protect the puck before rifling a shot over Boucher's right shoulder, while the goalie was screened by his own defensemen.
The shorthanded goal only emphasized the Buffalo penalty killers' spectacular play. The Sabres consistently frustrated Philadelphia and allowed no power play goals in four opportunities.
Simon Gagne scored late in the third period to pull the Flyers within one. Gagne was left all alone in front of the Buffalo net and buried a pass in to the top corner past Biron. Marty Murray and Ruslan Fedetenko got the assists on the goal.
The Sabres came into this contest ranked 23rd in the league in penalty killing, but thanks to the efforts of players like Curtis Brown and Barnes, two of the Sabres' penalty killing specialists, the Sabres were able to re-establish a unit that was previously in the top five in the NHL.
"Last year we did a fantastic job [killing penalties] ... we got away from that a little bit in the previous couple of games, so we just wanted to be real focused out there," Brown said. "Basically, killing penalties just comes down to working hard, and that's all we really tried to do."
"Penalty killing has always been one of our strong points. Guys take pride in not allowing goals against," Barnes said. "[Philadelphia] is so talented and they have so many guys who can put pucks in the net, so [we] just went out and tried to work hard and not give them opportunities."
Biron finished the game allowing only one goal on 27 shots, earning him the game's first star. Satan and defenseman Jay McKee were the second and third stars, respectively.
Next up for the Sabres will be an emotional matchup against future hall of fame goaltender and former Buffalo Sabre, Dominik Hasek, and the Detroit Red Wings tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
When asked how he felt about going up against the Dominator, Barnes downplayed the situation.
"I don't think it's as big a deal as everybody's making it out to be," Barnes said.
Biron, however, voiced his excitement in going up against his predecessor.
"It's going to be special for a lot of guys. It's Dominik Hasek, you can't forget him; he's a legend," Biron said. "I'm sure it'll be a little more special when he comes here, to Buffalo, for the fans."
News and Notes
The Sabres had a few unexpected guests at HSBC Arena Wednesday night, as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, were in attendance.
The Flyers continue to play their physical style of hockey, as they once again out-hit their opponent, tabbing 25 hits to Buffalo's 15.
Captain Stu Barnes has now scored a goal in three-straight games.
The Sabres' top defensive pairing of Jay McKee and Rhett Warrener finished the game +1, the first time this season they've been on the positive side of the statistic.
Buffalo continued to show why they're one of the top defensive teams in the league by blocking 24 Philadelphia shots, while the Flyers blocked only two.