The Sabres rolled into the United Center, to play the host Chicago Blackhawks in front of a sell-out crowd. In an attempt to shake things up, combined with the pending suspension of forward Patrick Kaleta, Ron Rolston made some lineup changes.
As mentioned, Kaleta is currently suspended, and was replaced in the lineup with John Scott. Healthy scratches were Mike Weber and Kevin Porter. To make up for those scratches, Mikhail Grigorenko started on the third line, and Alexander Sulzer on the blue line.
Despite a spirited effort by Buffal0′s top line, and another great effort by Ryan Miller, the Sabres remained winless dropping a 2-1 decision to the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Buffalo now has a 0-5-1 record on the young season.
The first period opened up with a good shift by Vanek / Hodgson / Ott, putting some sustained pressure with a shot on goal in the first 30 seconds. Buffalo was called for an early penalty, as Girgensons tripped a Blackhawks forward coming through center ice.
Miller made a couple big saves, and the Sabres continued their stellar penalty kill against a potent Chicago offense. The Blackhawks were obviously taking chances and opening things up against a young and inexperienced Sabres lineup. The even strength play was short lived, with Tyler Myers taking penalty for roughing in the corner approximately four minutes later. Buffalo was also successful on this penalty kill.
The Blackhawks struck first, as Ben Smith was able to wrist the puck past Ryan Miller at 9:26. Miller was sliding to his right, as the puck went in without incident to his left. On the first shift following the goal, Marcus Foligno was interfered with while breaking towards the Chicago net giving Buffalo a power play.
As the Buffalo power play ended, Steve Ott hit Blackhawk forward Ben Smith in the back, and took a penalty for boarding. Miller made a couple of outstanding saves again, and Hodgson struck the post behind Corey Crawford on a break into the offensive zone.
As soon as Steve Ott exited the penalty box, Brandon Bollig went after him resulting in offsetting minors. The period ended in the Blackhawks up 1-0, with Miller having a strong 19 save effort.
The second period started exactly like the first, with the Sabres having a good shift in the Chicago zone with a great scoring chance by Vanek / Hodgson / Ott. Ryan Miller came up with an enormous save on Marion Hossa at the one minute mark, when the Buffalo defense left him all alone in front of the net.
The Sabres puck possession was much better in the first five minutes of the game, however no real pressure was placed on Crawford to make any saves. Ryan Miller was tested consistently throughout the period, making big saves. Tyler Myers made a great play on a rebound that was fluttering into the net, maintaining good composure and keeping his stick even with the crossbar and batting the puck away.
The Sabres were given a power play at the 6:18 mark for holding on Marcus Kruger, which was quickly wiped out on a tripping penalty taken by Cody Hodgson behind the Chicago net.
The short Hodgson penalty was killed off by Buffalo. After some sustained pressure from Buffalo, a questionable call on Rasmus Ristolainen was made for a hold at 18:49, putting the Blackhawks on the power play. With 24.9 seconds left in the period, Patrick Kane buried the puck to make it 2-0 on the power play.
During the second period, there was no real pressure Chicago netminder Corey Crawford until the last five minutes. He was up to the task, and remained perfect through 2 periods.
The third period presented another chance to the top line, when Vanek placed a great pass to the stick of Steve Ott. This lead to a quality save by Crawford. Buffalo was given an early power play, when the stick of forward Patrick Kane came up and struck Steve Ott in the face.
The ensuing power play for thre Sabres was good, with sustained puck possession in the Chicago zone but no goal. The theme of the third period for the Sabres, was not being able to finish on opportunities. The top line of Vanek, Hodgson and Ott had a good period with multiple chances.
The Sabres produced a 3 on 2 at near the 12 minute mark, with Cody Hodgson making a pass in the slot through a mass of legs and sticks to Stafford, who slid the puck under the pads of a moving Crawford. This closed the gap to 2-1. Crawford had his strongest period of the game for Chicago, as Buffalo’s top line had continued pressure throughout the period.
With 1:25 left in the third, Rolston pulled Ryan Miller for the extra attacker. Buffalo had good possession in the Chicago zone with a few good chances, however nothing close to a quality chance.
There was no doubt that the top line was the best on the ice for Buffalo tonight. Not until the last five minutes of the game, did any sort of chances come from other spots in the lineup. Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk, with Brian Duff after the game: “Every line was generating at some point. We have seen that we can compete with a team like the Stanley Cup Champions. Some guys, like myself, need to stop looking over at the other bench on teams like this like a deer in headlamps. We need to start off better.” It really is a great point, as in the pre game show, Rob Ray pointed out that these young players have to remember why they are here and not think about who they are playing against. “They need to not be so awestruck, and worry about who they are playing against so much”, stated Ray.
Buffalo plays again next Monday, October, 14th at home. They face former captain Jason Pominville, who comes back to First Niagara center as a member of the Minnesota Wild for the first time. Faceoff is at 7:30pm and the game will be broadcast on NBCSN.