Sabres/Flyers ECQF Game 1 Recap: The Dice Roll, Miller Time, & The Penalty Kill Snatch Up Game One
Everyone knew Ryan Miller would need to steal a game on the road. Everyone knew the special teams needed to hold the fort. We’ve all been talking about Tim Connolly needing to be on his game, unlike last spring. What no one considered was that Patrick Kaleta
playing in his first game since going down a few weeks ago with a knee injury (Ed. note: Whoops) would be the player to score the winning (and only) goal of the series opener.
The interesting thing about Kaleta’s goal is that sneaking into the slot like that is it seems the Sabres never have a man in position like he was to pounce on huge rebounds like Bobrovsky gave up. The goal was just desserts for the Gerbe/Gaustad/Kaleta line, which was one that was solid all night. There were questions about sitting Mancari for Kaleta and what it might do to the Gerbe/Gaustad/Mancari line that showed so much chemistry down the stretch, but the G/G/K line’s grinding early really showed those fears to be unfounded.
Miller’s play, especially in the second period, was dynamic, but he had a lot of help from his skaters playing a tight defensive style all night. After weathering the storm in the first period, the Sabres defensemen and back-checking forwards did a fantastic job keeping Flyers on the perimeter. It’s going to be a recurring strategy for the Sabres throughout this series if they wish to keep the deep forward talent of the Flyers off the scoresheet as much as possible.
As much credit as Miller deserves tonight, the penalty killing units deserve just as much. The Flyers had five powerplays to the Sabres’ one and in the playoffs when everything is that much more grueling, the Sabres could’ve really folded after the third or fourth. Instead, they stepped up their game and kept
Back to Kaleta, anyone who follows me on Twitter knows my opinion of the pest from Angola. When he’s playing smart, focused hockey, he can be dangerous both with his hitting and also his timely scoring. It’s what he did last season to give him a breakout 12 goal campaign, but he got away from it this season and it hampered his play. Coming back from a 16 game absence, he played what can arguably be the smartest, most patient game of his entire career. He made timely hits when the opportunity arose within the play, displayed his trademark tenacious backchecking, and didn’t take any boneheaded penalties caused by unnecessary aggression. If this is the Kaleta that the Sabres will be playing this postseason, then he’ll prove to be an asset indeed.
The defensive scheme employed by Lindy Ruff may have helped win the game for the Sabres, but if they want to take control of the series, Kaleta can’t be the only one finding his way onto the score sheet. Part of the team’s offensive struggles in game one came from the 1-3-1 defense that they ran and part of it came from spending 1/6 of the game on the penalty kill, but when the team’s big guns get chances, they need to capitalize. If the Sabres can frustrate the Flyers early in game 2, those chances will come and they’ll need to score.
One important thing to note about this Sabres victory is that the entire team ended the game healthy. This team is significantly less dangerous when even one of their key contributors misses time, so staying healthy is going to be a big deal if the Sabres want to make a deep run. In addition to an increase in scoring, hopefully game 2 brings another healthy outcome for the team. The game starts at 5PM EST on Saturday and is on MSG.