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Game Night, Boxing Day Edition! Caps @ Sabres 12/26/2011

12/26/11
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Black & Blue & Gold is back in the press box following the Christmas weekend and primed to do the live blog dealy on Boxing Day 2011. Who else is back? It’s looking like Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht will be making their returns to the lineup tonight as the slumping Sabres take on the collapsing Capitals in First Niagara Center.

Sidenote: Tonight at 8PM, if by chance you find yourself wandering away from a craptastical Sabres home game, NHL Network will be showing the mighty, mighty U.S. as they open their round-robin play against Denmark. Oh mama, don’t you cry!

Roster updates, notes, and such – the usual suspects after the jump!


Pregame
6:20PM – With Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht looking ready to return tonight, the crowd in the FNC infirmary is finally starting to lighten up a bit. In case one of them isn’t set to go, Paul Szczechura is still with the team as an extra body.

6:29PM – Led by Ryan Miller and Michal Neuvirth, the two teams are on the ice for warmups. Both Boyes and Hecht are on the ice and Szczechura is not, so it’s a clear bet the former two are in the lineup.

6:45PM – Drew Stafford, last man off the ice for the Sabres. Kind of fitting for the team’s current doghouse denizen. His secondary scoring is sorely missed and it’s part of the reason the Sabres have tumbled for a while now.

6:58PM – Starting lineups as follows. For Sabres: Vanek/Hecht/Pominville up front, Weber/Leopold in back, and Miller in net. For Capitals: Johansson/Backstrom/Semin up front, Wideman/Hamrlik in back, and Neuvirth in net. Doug Allen coming up with the anthems after the intro videos.

First Period
7:09PM – 9 seconds in and the Sabres are already on the power play thanks to Roman Hamrlik carelessly putting the puck out of play from inside his own zone. 51 seconds in and the Sabres have the lead thanks to Jason Pominville on the man advantage. 1-0, Pominville from Stafford and Leopold.

7:14PM – Matt Ellis slings a harmless-looking backhand past Neuvirth, who was caught napping. 2-0, Ellis unassisted.

7:21PM – The boo birds, who have been so quick to pounce this season, are readily cheering strong shifts tonight. The old cliche is that Buffalo is a blue collar town that roots for blue collar effort and the fans certainly lived up to that adage just now.

7:24PM – Kaleta to the box for tripping Ovechkin as the former came flying across the neutral zone to take out his man. Fans are irate as usual but the crowd is quick to cheer again with Miller making a calm save followed by a good clear. The fans are ready to love their home team so far. The early 2-0 lead helps.

7:27PM – Sabres had the Caps’ number on that kill, as clogged shot lanes and Miller trusting his teammates kept the visitors from getting any real looks at the net.

7:28PM – Ehrhoff gets the puck through with a sizzling howitzer of a shot and plucks the top corner for a three goal lead in the first period. Cue the goalie swap as Tomas Vokoun takes over. 3-0, Ehrhoff from Vanek and

7:31PM – Capitals continue to march to the box as Ovechkin goes for tripping. Sabres are making their guests look foolish quite often on the forecheck. 7:21 left in the first period.

7:34PM – McNabb redeems himself on the point by coming in real low to slot home Brad Boyes’ pass with an unlucky bounce off of Luke Adam. I say unlucky because, unless the call stands, McNabb will lose his first career NHL goal to a fluky bounce into the net off of his teammate. 4-0, McNabb from Boyes and Roy (might actually be Adam from McNabb and Boyes). Still 5:09 left in the first period.

7:38PM – Sabres had scored 4 goals on 7 shots against two different goalies before the game was even 15 minutes old. The home team came out inspired after the holiday break. The visitors? Expired, more like it.

7:46PM – Even on the penalty kill to end the period. the opening frame was all Sabres all the time. Standing ovation sends them off the ice with the 4-0 lead (Pominville, Ellis, Ehrhoff, and McNabb but likely Adam). Shots are 9-8 in favor of Washington.

Second Period
8:03PM – The period opens with pockets of fans doing the patented Sabres fan goal count-up. Paul Gaustad does his best to bring it up to 5 but rings the puck off the post as the Sabres kill off Weber’s tripping call. His shot came on a shorthanded 3-on-1 for the Sabres.

8:08PM – Strong forechecking by the Sabres gets squandered as Sekera, who is caught staring into neutral space, doesn’t see the puck drifting his way with a wide open shooting lane in front of him. Sabres not firing on all cylinders, but they’re firing on most of them still.

8:09PM – Joel Ward is the latest Capital to take a trip to the sin bin, but this time the Sabres inspire ire instead of awe from the home crowd. Shouts of dissent starting to rise up in the stands – are Sabres fans the most fickle in the league?

8:14PM – McNabb gets to feel the shame after high-sticking Semin. The Capitals have been really frustrating the Sabres lately and could spark something with a power play goal here. Visitors ready to pounce on the coasting home team.

8:19PM – Team USA update: It’s 2-1 USA versus Denmark. Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker with goals for the mighty, mighty U.S. and Matias Hansen for Denmark.

8:22PM – Zack Kassian with a great defensive play to take away a big shooting lane. The Sabres’ team defense today is the real difference maker. Chances against are getting snuffed out fast and the transition is starting up quicker.

8:25PM – Quick game presentation idea: Sabres’ PA guy would earn points for giving the fans at FNC scoring updates for any Team USA games happening during Sabres home games. Oh yeah, it’s 3-1 now.

8:26PM – Robyn Regehr just opened up the tunnel of death terminus on Alex Ovechkin, blasting him into the end boards. You could feel the rattle in the pressbox on that one.

8:31PM – Miller faces down a tricky tip from in close by Brooks Laich but snares it no problem. Miller has looked calm and zen-like all game, but beyond his own play, he’s been letting his defensemen makes plays around him and it’s led to a big improvement in play around the Sabres’ net.

8:34PM – A weak floater makes it past Miller with everyone on the ice in front of him and the Caps have broken the shutout in the final minute of the second period. Will it be enough to spark a comeback? 4-1, Perreault unassisted. The second period has come to a close.

8:45PM – Sabres’ game presentation staff put a live feed of the Team USA/Denmark game on the jumbotron for about half of the intermission. To quote Mike Harrington, credit where it’s due for sure.

Third Period
8:52PM – From the updated game notes: Sabres are 12-0-2 when leading after two periods, while the Caps are 2-9-1 when trailing after two periods. Third period underway.

8:53PM – Sabres start the third period fast, nearly netting their 5th of the night if not for Mike Weber flubbing the shot. This is the team the fans expected.

8:57PM – McNabb’s offensive game tonight might remind one of Tyler Myers and his two PPG performance versus Toronto in his rookie season. This year’s big rookie found himself in an open lane with the puck on his stick again, sneaking in the way no 6’5″ player should ever be allowed. This time, though, no dice.

9:04PM – There is still 11:33 left in the third period but Alex Ovechkin has looked like a declining superstar tonight and the Sabres have been giving him the business all game. What is surprising is no one on the Caps’ roster has come to their captain’s defense after getting worked over by Kaleta, Regehr, and Kassian.

9:06PM – Sabres are shorthanded again with Kaleta sitting for tripping. If the Capitals are going to mount their comeback, they’ll need to start now on the power play.

9:08PM – Just like that, Ovechkin scores to cut the Sabres’ lead to two. It took him 49 minutes and 51 seconds to show up in Buffalo. 4-2, Ovechkin from Backstrom and Wideman.

9:09PM – In a move one could only describe as momentum-killing, the Sabres head back to the power play off of a Brooks Laich trip. As The Hosers’ Colin Bruckel just said, “The trips are hot tonight”.

9:14PM – Vokoun does his best impression of a visiting keeper at Anfield, only he doesn’t have to. Boyes lifted the puck over the wide open net. Under 6 and a half and the Sabres are up by 2.

9:17PM – Mathieu Perreault had to be helped off the ice after missing his check and blowing himself up in the corner. Always an unfortunate way to get injured.

9:19PM – WJC look in: It’s 8-2 USA over Denmark in the second period. Local kid Adam Clendening has two points so far.

9:23PM – Mathieu Perreault survived his self-mutilation in the corner enough to commit charging and put the Sabres on a late power play. Another insurance goal would be nice, but so far all they’ve mustered is shots over the top and pucks off the pipe.

9:27PM – Sabres win 4-2. Goals by Pominville, Ellis, Ehrhoff, McNabb for Buffalo and Perreault and Ovechkin for Washington. Shots 23-22 Sabres. Fans finally leave happy. Happy Boxing Day, Buffalo!

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