Game Summary - Game 32: Senators @ Sabres - Buffalo Down Dirty Shame
by Chet Sellers
One of the mantras Senators fans have repeated to themselves over the course of this disappointing season is, "We're not that bad. Buffalo is bad. We're not as bad as Buffalo." And it's true - Buffalo is bad, having collected a grand total of 14 points in 30 games so far this year. By statistical measures traditional or advanced, Buffalo's ineptitude has been historic. Buffalo is Islanders-in-the-90s-bad. Buffalo is expansion team-bad. I haven't checked, but I'm pretty sure Buffalo's fourth line is made up of contest winners.
And yet. As the Senators begin a home-and-home series with the Sabres tonight, you might be looking at this week's schedule and saying, "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." And while you'd be casually exaggerating the monotony of back-to-back games against the lowly Sabres, you'd also be constructing a grammatically-correct sentence exploiting the use of homonyms and homophones. And in a way, you'd be obliquely commenting on the fact that, even though the Senators may look superior to the Sabres on paper, in the NHL any team can beat another on any given night. You'd be pointing out that, if the Senators are going to pick up the four points they need from the Sabres this week, they need to fight the complacency that follows a win just as much as they need to fight the Sabres. Very deep of you.
So let's get into it - can the Senators' momentum survive a flight to Buffalo? Can the team combat the conditions at the First Niagara Centre, where the ice is lit about as well as 1970s pornography? Can ex-Sabre Clarke MacArthur stay hotter than a Thai rattlesnake against his former team? Let's find out!
Somebody call Britney Spears, because the Ottawa Senators are in the zone - entering the offensive zone, that is! Perhaps one of the reasons why the Sabres aren't very good is because their defensemen protect the blue line like France protected the Alsace-Lorraine? Six minutes in, Cory Conacher and Milan Michalek lead a 2-on-1 rush into the Sabres zone that results in Michalek potting a Conacher feed to make it 1-0 Senators. Not only is it Michalek's first goal in almost three weeks, but it's also the first time the Senators have scored first since the early 1920s. Somewhere, white doves fly out of a limousine. A black bear nuzzles a deer in a snowy wood. At a Tibetan monastery, a large bell rings for no reason. What is going on here?
The Sabres are going on, baby! Four minutes later the Senators drive another 2-on-1 rush into the Sabres zone, only this time it's Jared Cowen and Matt Kassian, and Kassian almost puts Cowen's rebound away. The only odd-man rush statistically less-likely to come from the Senators would be Chris Neil and an eagle. "Alright, Matt," Paul MacLean tells Kassian as he returns to the bench, "that's a great two minutes for the night. Let's get you back in the jeweler's case."
After one, though shots are even at 11-11 - hey, that's Anze Kopitar's number! - it feels like the Senators are in control, with Ryan Miller having had to work a lot harder than Robin Lehner. Is it always this sunny in Buffalo?
No. The game settles down during the second period, and as the Senators begin to take penalties, the Sabres begin to take control. A little more than halfway through the period, it's actually a fluky Sabres shot from the side of the net that gets caught in Lehner's skates and slips behind him into the net. 1-1. The shot comes from 19-year-old Latvian Zemgus Girgensons, who figures to be a key piece of the Latvian team in Sochi, possibly on a line with Kaspars Daugavins and Bupkis Clatterpans.
With a little over four minutes left in the period, though, hell breaks loose when a scrum in front of the net leaves a puck lying in the Senators crease, which Robin Lehner then swipes into the net while flailing around on his back. 2-1 Sabres, right? Wrong! No goal! The referees rule that because of a delayed penalty call for a Jason Spezza high-stick, there was "intent to blow" as soon as Ottawa touched the puck and so the goal doesn't count. An outraged arena of western New Yorkers lets the officiating crew know exactly who they think has intent to blow what.
Truthfully, Buffalo was screwed on that goal call, and part of the anger from Sabres fans probably stems from the shock of this kind of thing having never, ever happened to them before. To the team's credit, though, the incident seems to rally the Sabres, who seize the momentum from the Senators for good and end up outshooting them 18-9 for the period. In the dressing room, a resolved Robin Lehner stares into a mirror. "You cannot expected to be saved by intent to blow again. You must save yourself . . . with intent to kill."
Lehner's pep talk seems to have worked, as he stands up against Sabres pressure early in the period to make a handful of fantastic saves. The Senators come back with some good chances and end up outshooting the Sabres 13-6, but can't capitalize before the period ends. This all took twenty minutes, by the way.
4-on-4 play solves nothing! Let's settle this baby with a home run derby! No wait, H-O-R-S-E! Hang on, this is hockey - we're going to the shootout!
If you're keeping track, this is the Senators' third shootout in three games, which has made the past week feel a bit like watching Django Unchained. The Senators do themselves no favours when three of their first four shooters - Ryan, Karlsson, and Spezza - can't even control the puck long enough to get a shot on net, with only Mika Zibanejad keeping the team alive when he beats Ryan Miller five-hole. "Hit the showers, 93," says MacLean. "This is a team game, not an individual sport. And shave those sideburns."
Guess what - this shootout goes ten rounds! It goes so long, Erik Condra gets involved! It goes so long, Paul MacLean almost gets the key to Matt Kassian's ankle cuff! It goes so long, Sportsnet just turns it off! Kyle Turris and Milan Michalek score to keep the Senators alive, but eventually it's Zemgus Girgensons who ices it for the Sabres. 2-1 is your final, and somewhere in Europe, Kaspars Daugavins does a spin move in celebration. Latvians, man.
Tonight's game just goes to show that you can never underestimate your opponent, no matter how bad they look on paper, and to their credit, the Buffalo Sabres didn't do that, keeping their effort level up until they finally put the Senators away. We get to do it all again on Thursday, too! Will the game feature blown goal calls? Low scoring? An interminable skills competition? Or will it be boring? Tune in and find out until they turn it off again!