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NOTEBOOK: ON THE DEFENSE

Wednesday, 02.04.2009 / 11:28 PM / Features
By Erin Pollina  - Sabres.com
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NOTEBOOK: ON THE DEFENSE
Ryan Miller (Photo: Bill Wippert)
It’s no secret that the Buffalo Sabres have struggled at home this season; Entering January the team had only earned 22 out of a possible 42 points when playing at HSBC Arena (10-9-2). 

But lately, things have been different.

Capturing a season-high, fourth-consecutive win at home Wednesday night, 5-0 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sabres are beginning to remember exactly how to please the crowd.

The answer has simply been defense.

Coming off a six-game road trip the Sabres wanted to keep things simple – not only because of fatigue stemming from travel, but because too often playing with flash had cost them points.

Limiting the Leafs to only 16 shots, the Sabres did just that as solid play in their own end paved the way for the offense.

“It was one of our better efforts on defense,” Ryan Miller said. “We had great backpressure. They didn’t have a lot of zone time… they didn’t have body position because we were making them shoot from a little worse angle than they wanted. Little things like that paid off tonight and the boys looked really sharp. They should be proud of controlling the game for 60 minutes.”

Miller earned his second consecutive shutout in the effort, and his fifth of the season. He attributes his success to good communication with his teammates.

 “We’re on the same page,” Miller said. “I think that we were traveling in front, trying to block a lot of shots. With our collapse, with our forwards helping out more, it’s up to our forwards to do a little bit better job up top and block some shots… so our defense can get possession of the puck or box out and let me see.
 
“It’s just managing hockey games, being smart. It’s the kind of game we’re going to have to play to be a playoff team. To do well in playoffs you’re going to run into teams that are just going to want to be as boring as heck and tonight we weren’t boring. We were just good.”



The Sabres may be getting a little inspiration from the past. Since the debut of the new third jersey, Buffalo has gone 6-1 while wearing the vintage look – with five of those victories at HSBC Arena.

The alternate sweaters will be worn in the Sabres’ next two home games – Feb. 6 against the Montreal Canadiens and Feb. 11 against the Ottawa Senators. The team will wear the jerseys a total of 15 times this season. To see the schedule, click here.



While the simple plays may have earned the Sabres the victory, a highlight-reel goal by Drew Stafford may have stolen the show.

Midway through the first period the winger accepted a pass from Clarke MacArthur before deking Leaf’s defenseman Mike Van Ryn, putting the puck between his legs and snapping a wrist shot past rookie netminder Justin Pogge.

“I’ve seen him do it a few times in practice,” Miller said. “But he set it up so nicely, he just made it look like he was cutting to the middle and he bangs it outside through the legs. That helps the bench too.

“It was a sick move.”

To watch the replay, click here.



Ryan Miller is on pace to break a personal best after posting his second consecutive shutout. Entering the 2008-09 season the goaltender’s career-high scoreless streak was capped at 122:24 minutes.

He broke that record with back-to-back shutouts in November, holding opponents without a goal for 149:12 minutes.

Currently, Miller has not allowed a point in 126:52 minutes.



Thomas Vanek is also making history. His fifth career hat trick was also his fourth straight natural hat trick (3 in 2007-08; 1 in 2008-09). Vanek is just the second player in NHL history to accomplish the feat. The first was Cy Denneny of the Ottawa Senators - from Feb. 21, 1923 to March 5, 1924.

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