UNIONDALE, N.Y. – It took longer than they would’ve liked, but the Buffalo Sabres finally have one in the Win column.
The Sabres picked up their first victory of the season, defeating the New York Islanders 4-3 in a shootout at Nassau Coliseum. Thomas Vanek and Tyler Ennis each scored in both the game and in the shootout for Buffalo. Marcus Foligno scored with 2:01 left in regulation to tie the game.
Ryan Miller made 41 saves through 65 minutes of action and then secured the extra point by making two saves in the shootout, including one on Islanders captain John Tavares in the top of the third round.
Buffalo entered the game 0-6-1 on the year, but finally broke through against New York.
“It’s good to finally get a win. It’s part of the process but it’s good that guys finally get rewarded for some effort and sticking with it,” Miller said. “We have been in some games. We have given it the effort and come up short. After awhile, it really starts to wear on you and it’s good that they get rewarded. It gives us a chance to feel good for a little while and see if we can build. The key now is to build.”
It was the second game this season in which Miller made at least 40 saves. He stopped 45 on Oct. 4 against Ottawa. It was the third time this season in which he’s faced 40 or more shots.
Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin and Matt Moulson scored for the Islanders. Evgeni Nabokov made 31 saves.
After a 2-1 loss at home to the Minnestota Wild on Friday, Buffalo Sabres coach Ron Rolston said he wanted more production from his top six forwards. Those players on the top two lines contributed on every Buffalo goal.
The line of Ennis, Foligno and Drew Stafford generated two goals for Buffalo, including the game-tying tally. The trio was recently reunited and had much success as a line at the end of the 2011-12 season.
One notable difference between then and now however, is that Rolston moved Foligno at center on Tuesday and will look to keep him there for the foreseeable future.
“I thought our line played really well, kind of played like the two-years-ago style our line played, when we’re flying around,” Ennis said. “We’ve got to do that every game. Tonight was a good one for us. We moved our feet down low, generated a lot of chances. They’re big boys so when they get low and move their feet, they’re tough to handle.”
Foligno said that the win is the product of learning from their past few games. He found positives in the team’s 2-1 loss to Chicago on Saturday and a win can have a positive effect on the team’s confidence level.
“You build and then you build. We know that you’ve got to keep working hard and tonight it paid off,” he said. “Maybe earlier it would’ve been hard to come back and get that last goal, but now we’ve got it. It’s something that hopefully can change our confidence and look forward to the next game.”
Nielsen opened the scoring with 6:49 to play in the first period. Skating through the neutral zone at center ice, Josh Bailey hit Nielsen with a pass on the rush down the left wing. Nielsen crossed in over the line and pulled up near the faceoff circle to wrist a shot into the top right corner of the net over Miller’s glove.
Buffalo tied the game 5:24 into the second on a goal by Ennis. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff kept the puck in at the blue line and backhanded a puck toward the net. It deflected off the stick of Stafford and Nabokov handled it awkwardly. The puck ended up behind him and Ennis, standing on the doorstep, tapped it home.
The Islanders took the lead again 8:08 into the second when Martin was able to cash home a shot from the slot that Casey Cizikas initially fanned on.
Buffalo broke even again quickly on the power play 1:09 later. Vanek’s goal was scored tic-tac-toe play that started with Christian Ehrhoff throwing a pass cross-ice to Cody Hodgson along the left half-wall. Hodgson then one-touch passed the puck to Vanek in front of the net, where he deflected it in off the shaft of his stick.
Steve Ott was involved in a few collisions in the third and caused a scene 7:47 into the period when he wrestled with Tavares in the corner of Buffalo’s zone. He received minor penalties for holding and roughing on the play. While the Islanders scored on that power-play opportunity to take a 3-2 lead with 8:44 to play, hard hits seemed to occur a little more often after that play.
“I thought the physical nature of the game kind of sparked both teams. Everyone got into it on the bench and it gave everybody a shot of energy and it was going back and forth both ways,” Rolston said. “They’re a really good skating team and it took everything we had to get up and down the rink and I give our guys credit for that.”
Foligno tied the game late thanks to a keep-in by defenseman Tyler Myers in the Islanders zone following a lost faceoff by Foligno. After securing the failed New York clearing attempt, Foligno settled the puck down from inside the blue line, spun around and wristed a shot through traffic to beat Nabokov.
Foligno credited Myers for making a confident play to set up the goal.
“With [Myers], he stayed in and that was a huge difference. Maybe before, it might have been different whether it be our D backing out and then they’re going the other way. With his long stick, his long reach, he was able to protect it, keep it in. I just got it and made sure I settled down, shot it and it went off those two guys in front of the net – I think it went off one of them – but it beat Nabokov.”
Zemgus Girgrensons left the game with an upper-body injury with 1:14 remaining in the first period and did not return. A wrist shot from the point by Tyler Myers deflected off an Islanders’ player stick and hit Girgensons in the face around his left eye as he stood in front of the Islanders net. He skated off the ice on his own and some blood had to be cleaned off the ice.
Rolston said some stitches were required to repair the damage.
“It’s a little puffy right now so I think he’s going to be fine,” Rolston said. “It’s just a matter of probably getting the swelling down.”
With Girgensons out, Buffalo played down a man for most of the game. It was their third contest in four nights, but in the third period, the players and coaches didn’t think that fatigue really showed.
“For the guys to just be able to bounce back after our loss last night at home and really the tail end of a three-in-four was big for us,” Rolston said. “The energy tonight I thought was there all the way through the third period which was good that we were able to find a way late in the game to get that tying goal.”
Buffalo was also without right wing Patrick Kaleta, who was suspended for 10 games by the League prior to the game for a hit to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson on Thursday.
The Sabres are back in action Thursday when they host the Vancouver Canucks at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center. They’ll look to carry some of the good vibes from their win on Long Island into that game.
“It’s a nice boost of confidence and get a little bit of fun in here and positivity because there’s nothing fun about losing and that streak we were on,” Stafford said. “It was extremely hard to stay with it and stay positive, but it makes it even sweeter when you do finally break through and you get a big win like this. We’re going to enjoy this one tonight and then it’s back to work.”