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Immediate Reactions: Sabres 4, Bruins 2

blog by Ryan Nagelhout  • 

The best and worst teams in the Atlantic Division met one another in the middle on Thursday night in downtown Buffalo.

A crowd of 18,217 filed into First Niagara Center anticipating another home loss to a superior opponent. Instead, they were greeted by a win from the worst team in hockey.

The two teams exchanged shorthanded goals, Boston’s tally part of a pair in the first 3:04 of the second period to make it 2-1.

However, Marcus Foligno drove to the net to tie the game later in the middle frame, and the difference in the game was a Drew Stafford wraparound goal with 5:41 left on the clock.

Eighty seconds later, Brian Flynn skated into a 2-on-1 and found the third man, a streaking Tyler Myers who put the game away with a rocket over the shoulder of Bruins netminder Chad Johnson.

The Sabres have fewer wins than Boston does losses, even after Thursday’s final. One game can’t flip-flop the two teams’ places in the National Hockey League this season. The result, however, could change the feeling surrounding the Buffalo Sabres.

This isn’t the start of a playoff run, but of an encouraging story arc entirely possible for a bad hockey team to achieve.

You can still be bad and not boring. You can improve in the present and still build for the future. Buffalo was all of the above on Thursday. The effort wasn’t perfect, but it was worth a win and the crowd certainly enjoyed the show.

With 33.5 seconds left in the third period, the majority of the First Niagara Center crowd stood up. Some were heading to the exits to beat traffic, but most of them were cheering the Buffalo Sabres. Many of those same people had cheered the team when they took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, and when they fought back to tie it at two after the second period.

The players raised their sticks to salute the adoring crowd before leaving the ice. After the game, everyone was talking. The locker room was full. The quotes were filled with encouragement and relief. Reporters were chatty, thankful to have something different to write about for once.

The only people leaving the arena unhappy were wearing black and gold.

It was a pre-Christmas miracle in what they’d like to call Hockey Heaven.

Fresh Hot Takes
— Marcus Foligno and Matt Frasier fought less than four minutes into the first period. While they were sizing one another up they accidentally skated near a stick one of the scrappers had thrown on the ice. Foligno stopped the stare-down to move the stick, then let an official come between them to pick the stick up. Safety first before you get your face punched in!

Foligno had a great game overall, picking up a goal off his chest to tie it at two and adding a secondary assist on the Myers goal late in the third. He’s starting to develop into a solid hockey player for the Sabres, and seems willing to do what it takes to stay in the lineup while Ted Nolan sorts through his roster.

— Many fans worried that Nolan’s return to the bench meant starting bruising hockey players with little talent, but I’ve been impressed with how Nolan has handled the roster thus far. He’s shuffled lines and sat a variety of players, but many have responded to his call for a strong work ethic both in practice and on game nights.

He doesn’t appear to have any favorites, other than the guy who he feels is working the hardest. Bad teams need good effort to stay afloat, and he’s slowly been getting results.

— The Sabres announced that they acquired forward Linus Omark during the second period. The cost for Omark—a Swedish player mostly famous for a shootout goal that was an affront to the sanctity of the game of hockey—was a conditional sixth-round draft pick.

I don’t have much to say about Omark other than the fact that he’s an embarrassment and needs to LEARN HIS PLACE IN THE NHL. I’m totally kidding. I love everything about this trade. Low risk, potentially high reward. Let’s have some fun with the guy. They might need him right away, as Cody Hodgson suffered a hand injury against Boston and is likely to miss some time.

Honestly, I’m more interested in the fact that the Sabres are making trades without the employ of a general manager. One imagines the phone in Darcy Regier’s now-empty office rings every now and again. Who is answering those calls? Do they go to the operator? Is it getting forwarded to some dude in accounts payable, who is accidentally trading away draft picks for a professional copy of Microsoft Office 2013?

— The Bruins are pretty good at blocking shots. They move to shooting lanes remarkably well and often made Buffalo look silly with a lot of its point shots on Thursday night. Since the Bruins categorically demolished the Sabres two Novembers ago, Buffalo has tried to emulate Boston’s toughness at every turn. What they should want to emulate is its defensive effort.

They don’t necessarily skate fast, but they skate hard. They’re committed to what they do, which was something absent from the Sabres early on this season. You get the sense that the team never really wanted to “sell out” for Ron Rolston, and they definitely grew tired of Lindy Ruff’s “System” in the final days years of his tenure.

The good news is that the Sabres seem to be working much harder on defense with Nolan, especially with the forecheck and with puck possession over the last few games. The Corsi numbers haven’t been as bad. Just like with Santa Claus, it all starts with a little bit of belief. A belief in the unrealistic and imaginary goals of being “not bad.” Getting real wins because of the effort can make a big difference, too.

LINUS OMARK SHOOTOUT INTERMISSION

Five Untrue Facts About Linus Omark
1) His favorite color is burnt sienna.

2) His brother once ate an entire cantaloupe in six minutes.

3) His favorite movie is “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”

4) He’s an avid ultimate frisbee player.

5) He maintains the official Space Jam movie website.

Hot Twitter Takes of the Game

Make that 7 for 35 after Thursday night’s game. Progress!

I put my own tweet here only to point out that the Bruins immediately scored after the Sabres announced the trade. It was pretty funny until the team came back to win the game.

Scratch of the Game
John Scott — Oh, the fun we could have had. There were some rumblings about the Sabres using Scott on the back end against Boston. I was desperately hoping this would happen. I was completely prepared to scrap this entire recap format and just give a breakdown of Scott’s every shift on defense. It would have been awesome. Also of note: This is the first Sabres/Bruins game Scott has missed since coming to Buffalo.

Everything about this game was good news.

Hometown Hero Villain of the Night

Did You Know? 

Stat-line I liked:
3
— A trio of unanswered goals gave the Sabres the win. Rare, and encouraging.

Stat-line I didn’t like:
2
— Second period collapse that got them in hole in the first place wasn’t exactly cute

Next Game:
Saturday (12/21) at Boston (7 p.m.) — Oh. You again?

(Top photo courtesy of Bill Wippert at the official Sabres Facebook page.)

Ryan Nagelhout is a freelance writer who blogs at The Goose’s Roost when he’s not writing children’s books.

TAGGED: buffalo sabres, downtown, hockey, immediate reactions, ryan nagelhout

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