BUFFALO, N.Y.– Evgeni Nabokov stopped all 35 Buffalo Sabres shots in his finest performance of the season that resulted in a win. The Islanders capitalized on poor backchecking and a Sabres team that lacked energy and effort on both ends of the ice. And after seeing them play, one has to think that it’s good to be an Isles fan right about now, because the Sabres look like anything but a team wanting to play, let alone win.
When I wrote this afternoon that what we had on display tonight were two of the best of the worst the NHL had to offer, never did I expect to see just how true a statement I had made. Here’s what I mean:
Considering for a moment that the Isles of 72 hours ago looked exactly like the Sabres team tonight, I and many others were asking for changes of the most drastic measures. And if you’ve read my last two or three posts, you’ll see that coaching was on my agenda, mainly that Jack has to go.
Now that Lindy Ruff received his walking papers, I see a harbinger of things to come in Buffalo: a losing team with frustration written all over their game, especially in Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, the Sabres top two players. Vanek was almost non-existent tonight, and played a downtrodden game as time wore on, whereas Miller almost took on the Isles’s 4th line in an attempt at venting his frustrations. There but for the grace of the hockey gods go the New York Islanders.
In all, Howie Rose coined the phrase of the night with regards to the current Buffalo squad:
This team is playing like they want to get the coach fired.
I say that Nabokov, of all the Isles players, demonstrated a most confident game because he now knows, more than ever, he’s his team’s goalie, and his words in the locker-room will have even more weight. Nabby played a possessed brand of hockey tonight, like the early Nabokov of the San Jose years. His finest performance to date, most definitely.
And his stellar play comes at the most critical of moments, as teams like the New York Rangers are finding ways to lose important games and thereby losing their grip on standings placement.
Now that Carolina comes a’ knocking tomorrow night, and we see Kevin Poulin for the first time this year, one gets the feeling that a new season within a season is upon us all.
But let’s not go there just yet. Let’s stay reserved for now. And as for Jack Capuano: you can keep your job for another month.
The first remained scoreless, due in large part to the goalies duel on hand, as both teams played a plentiful amount of dump n’ chase/dump n’ crash hockey that resulted in more missed shots and bad penalties than set opportunities.
At one point, the Isles played vast amounts of minutes in the offensive zone, but couldn’t muster focused shots on net. But the Sabres inability to fire themselves up on the forecheck allowed the Islanders to recapture the momentum in the second, and behind Nabokov’s inspired play, scored the key first goal of tonight’s contest–a beautiful one time pass by Matt Moulson, through traffic, tapped in by Mark Streit, who deftly came in to pinch on the forecheck. This point, the defense joining the rush, was the second key point to tonight’s victory.
(Did you notice who passed the biscuit over to Moulson? That’s right…Marty Reasoner. How about that?!)
In one of the finer scoring moments of tonight’s game, Michael Grabner was finally able to finish a wonderful stickcheck back in his own zone, off a weak blue line pass, almost having his hands cut off by the Sabres’s defenseman in the process; his breakaway goal proved to be the icing on the cake. Grabner has had many opportunities to do likewise this season, but hasn’t had the ability to finish for many reasons: the tripping, hooking, slashing, and hacking by opposing players attempting to catch up with him. Tonight’s goal is a well-deserved one for our own Road-Runner.
The other feel good story is of course John Tavares, who once again shows the NHL who owns the wickedest snap shot in hockey, as he scores his 12th of the season on even strength at the 4:24 mark of the third:
And just to make things even sweeter tonight, the Isles’s 4th line adds a 4th goal to the tally on the power play, as Colin McDonald zips one past Miller’s stick side, all due in large part to the pressing of Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin.
Ryan Miller Picks a Fight
Yes, Miller picked a fight with Martin at the last minute of the game, as tempers boil over and the apparent frustration inside the Sabres organization was on display for all the NHL to see.
It does not bode well for the Sabres. And to make matters even more intriguing, apparently Capuano took exception with the Sabres coaching staff, hurling some f-bombs their way. Nice to see Jack break character. Hope to see more of the same during this upcoming 7-game home stand.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles
- IF you can, try to catch Howie Rose’s interview with Garth Snow. Talk about body language: these men DO NOT like each other. Nevertheless, Rose asked him what I believe to be an incredibly important question: Plan on solving the power forward probably on the first line? Mainly, when do you foresee picking up the next Clark Gillies so as to open up the play for Matt Moulson and John Tavares? Garth Snow replied [paraphrasing here]: What, you don’t think Brad Boyes is doing a good job? Boyes is no Gillies. Neither is Kyle Okposo. Heck, Okposo is no Boyes either. More on this next time.
- John Tavares, El Magnifico, is tied for most goals in the NHL. Good day to you.