Game Night! Oilers @ Sabres, 1/3/2012
The Sabres traveled downtown for tonight’s game. The visiting Oilers flew in from Chicago after beating the Blackhawks. It’s the Sabres’ first game of the new year! After the jump, it’s live-blogging time!
6:33PM – Sabres and Oilers are on the ice for warmups. Miller and Khabibulin led their respective squads out of the tunnels, much to no one’s surprise. Sabres have 13 forwards on the ice, including previously-ill captain Jason Pominville. Injured last night for the Oilers, Tom Gilbert and wunderkind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are both out.
6:38PM – Tonight is an important game for the Sabres. A litmus test, if you will. The Oilers played a hard-fought game last night in Chicago, lost two players (including their best guy), and flew in to Buffalo after their win. The Sabres ought to be fresh at home with management taking terse tones about performance and direction lately. A win is, besides expected given the circumstance, a monkey off the back. A loss could be a bad, bad thing.
6:42PM – An unpopular opinion, albeit one I share with WGR’s Matthew Coller, is that Zack Kassian could use some time back in the AHL to develop some more while putting what he learned in the NHL to good use during. He debuted strong but has dropped off as guys have come back and his role has shifted. He can further work on his skating and consistency better in Rochester getting a handful more minutes per game.
7:0PM – Your scratches update from Pat Malacaro as the Sabres’ intro video plays:
7:08PM – The first frame is underway. Starting lineups were 42/55/29, 6/24, 30 for Buffalo and Hall/Gagner/Hemsky, Smid/Potter, Khabibulin for Edmonton.
7:09PM – Good idea by Kassian to give the long pass to Vanek, even with it intercepted. It’s encouraging to see the team’s best player on a line with its best prospect, even if it breaks up the Tom & Pom Show.
7:15PM – So far, the Oilers have had the jump on the Sabres, which should absolutely not be happening given the circumstances. With the Sabres on the kill already, this could be a tone-setting series of events.
7:19PM – Sabres kill off Mike Weber’s penalty, but struggle to use it as a momentum boost. The team finally got on the SOG board 12:16 in, but looks the worse side so far.
7:24PM – Taylor Hall does the give-and-go with Ales Hemsky and scores the game’s first goal. A Toronto-esque roar rises from the crowd of Oilers fans. It was only a matter of time until the play-controlling Oilers got on the board, with their 12 shots so far in the period.
7:30PM – In transition, Pominville wires a shot at Khabibulin he has no problem seeing but all sorts of problems stopping. With their 5th shot of the night, the Sabres are tied with the Oilers.
7:37PM – After Pominville’s goal to tie, the game has become a transition-fest with both teams getting odd-man rushes. It’s looked very post-lockout, which is a good thing.
7:41PM – First period ends tied 1-1. Shots are 14-8 Oilers. Sabres got stronger as period went on after started like a tire fire. WJC update: Finland loses in the shootout to Sweden but prospect Joel Armia scored in the loss.
8:00PM – Brennan makes a dumb mistake behind the net then takes away the cross-crease pass to preserve the tie. He’s had jump in all three zones tonight, but sequences like that typify the Sabres’ defense.
8:04PM – Jordan Leopold takes the behind-the-net pass from Drew Stafford and it’s 2-1 for the home team. Cue up the Uncle Leo tweets. That goal was courtesy of Stafford shaking off defenders and playing the puck strong in the trapezoid.
8:13PM – The Sabres are on the two-man kill for :54 against a fast-passing Oilers team. A kill here would be a certain momentum booster for the home side.
8:18PM – So much for that kill. :13 in and the Oilers capitalize, then fail to do so again on their one-man advantage. The Sabres did generate some good shorthanded pressure with Hecht, which should be no surprise.
8:21PM – A trend this game is the Sabres generate momentum, then lose it only to suffer the wrath of Edmonton, only to get their momentum back again. The play is very back and forth again, but Sabres holding an 11-3 edge in shots this period.
8:35PM – Second period is over. Leopold scores for Sabres, Gagner for Oilers. Shots 12-5 for Sabres, 20-19 total for Sabres.
8:52PM – Sabres start third period with good pressure as Pominville and Vanek are reunited. No coincidence in my eyes.
9:00PM – This period, the Sabres’ best line without a doubt has been that of Adam, Kassian, and Boyes. The big line has attacked the zone with speed, giving the Oilers fits with their strength, and produced plenty of scoring chances. Lack of finish is killing them and this team tonight, however.
9:08PM – Sabres are on the power play thanks to Theo Peckham getting booked for holding, but they’ve been snake-bitten like nobody’s business. If they’re going to get off the schneid, it’s likely going to have to happen during this man advantage.
9:18PM – Stafford cashes in a loose puck from within a pile of skates and the Sabres are on top 3-2 with 4 minutes left in the third period. Less than a minute later, Gerbe takes the puck in on a breakaway and backhands it past Khabibulin to make it 4-2. Home team’s better legs seem to have appeared late in the final frame.
9:21PM – Oilers make it a game by ringing the puck in off the pipe. 4-3 with 1:50 to go in the third.
9:24PM – In the dying seconds of the game with Khabibulin on the bench, Stafford intercepts a pass to seal the home team’s win. Maligned by the fans, the winger had 3 points in the win. Sabres open 2012 with a win.