In a previous article about team chemistry improving among the Sabres, especially the line of Matt Moulson, Zemgus Girgensons, and Tyler Ennis, I ended with a prediction that the goals were coming for the Sabres. At that point, the Sabres had 22 goals in 18 games. Since then, the Sabres have played two games – and scored 10 goals.
It started with the Moulson-Girgensons-Ennis line in Saturday’s (November 15) game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ennis scored the first goal of the game, assisted by his two linemates, and Girgensons followed a few minutes later with a goal of his own. Moulson scored late in the second period and Girgensons scored again in the third. Moulson and Ennis each ended with a goal and two assists.
Although that group emerged as the Sabres’ top line in Saturday’s game, the whole team broke out. Eleven different Sabres collected at least one point. Stafford scored and assisted a goal, and defenseman Tyler Myers scored a goal as well. Mike Weber, Cody McCormick, Tyson Strachan, Andrej Meszaros, Nicolas Deslauriers, and Brian Flynn each had an assist as well in the Sabres’ 6-2 win.
One of the Sabres without a point on Saturday was the captain, Brian Gionta, who had just three assists and zero goals so far in his first season with the Sabres. That changed in last night’s game against the San Jose Sharks.
“Finally!” That was the word Gionta exclaimed in excitement, and maybe relief too, as he put the puck in the net to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead 11:54 into the second period.
And Gionta wasn’t the only one excited about his goal.
“Everyone was really happy and really excited, and there were 21 smiles on the bench when he scored that big one,” Ted Nolan said in his post-game press conference.
Gionta then contributed to the Sabres’ next two goals as well, assisting a Brian Flynn goal with 12 seconds left in the second period and scoring an empty-net goal late in the third. Gionta doubled his season points total in tonight’s game, and the Sabres won, 4-1.
In addition to the offense finally breaking out, the defense has been much stronger as of late too. Even with the loss of Josh Gorges, the defense has been strong, and there have been some surprises. Nineteen-year-old Nikita Zadorov is on the Sabres’ roster instead of juniors due in large part to the fact that he has to be. Strachan was signed with the expectation that he would be playing with the Sabres’ AHL team in Rochester for most of the season, but he’s taken Gorges’ place as Myers’ partner, and the two led the team in time on ice the past two games. After blocking four shots in Saturday’s game, Strachan saved a Sharks goal last night by pushing a Sharks player off balance when he had an open net. Later in the game, Strachan laid out and slid on his back to block a shot. Zadorov and his partner, 20-year-old Rasmus Ristolainen, have been another bright spot, with Nolan constantly having good things to say about them.
The only real complaint the Sabres have now is the loss of goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth did not return to the net after the first intermission. He has a lower body injury, and Nolan says it is more than day to day.
Apart from that, Nolan was in high spirits after last night’s win, which improved the Sabres’ record to 5-13-2. He pointed out the positives he’s been seeing even through the Sabres’ rough start to the season.
“Sometimes when you’re going through the kind of things that we’re going through, people only want to look at the negatives,” Nolan said. “But there are some positive things that have been happening too. Our two young defensemen [Zadorov and Ristolainen] are really coming, Girgensons is really coming, our leadership is starting to come, Matty Moulson’s starting to come, Ennis, that whole line, so there are some bright signs. And to see it all pull together with a couple wins is really nice.”
The Sabres have a snow day Wednesday before returning to practice on Thursday and hosting the New York Rangers Friday.