In a low-scoring affair, the Buffalo Sabres were able to strike first for the sixth time this season, but their efforts fell short.
Calgary Flames Matt Stajan beat Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth on a low wrist shot 42 seconds into overtime to give Calgary a 2-1 victory over Buffalo at First Niagara Center on Saturday.
Both teams were held off the scoreboard through 40 minutes as hard work and gritty play prevailed. Despite the high number of power-play opportunities both ways, Enroth and Calgary’s Karri Ramo shut out their opponent s through two periods. Enroth made 19 saves and Ramo made 18 in that span.
Enroth started the game in place of Ryan Miller, who played both parts of a home-and-home series against Ottawa on Tuesday and Thursday. This was Enroth’s first start since Dec. 7, a 3-2 loss in Montreal.
Enroth stopped 24 of 26 shots against Calgary, but the last goal stood out in Enroth’s mind. For Enroth, it was the low point in an otherwise solid appearance.
“I think he walked it over on my right side and just kept walking. It was a bad shot that I missed,” Enroth said.
Buffalo’s Matt Moulson scored the game’s first goal and Buffalo’s only goal at the 14:20 mark of the third period off a pass across the slot from Zemgus Girgensons. The goal was Moulson’s first point in his last six games.
“It was a good play by Zemgus driving wide there, and he got the puck to the net, and it kind of found its way in,” Moulson said. “Luckily it went off [Ramo’s] head and into the net.”
The offense struggled to produce for Buffalo again as they posted two or less goals for the sixth-straight game. Moulson said the team was frustrated, but the chances will come.
“We’ve got to keep creating chances. Eventually we’ll get some bounces here, we’ve been getting some bad bounces. We just have to keep working,” he said.
Less than three minutes after Moulson’s goal, Paul Byron tied the game for Calgary off a pass from behind the Buffalo net. The Sabres had a hard time developing momentum with all the first period penalties, and they struggled again with the Calgary goal coming so soon after Buffalo opened the scoring.
“It’s tough to get everyone involved when the special teams are out there. You just have to deal with it, that’s how some games are, and obviously that’s how this one went,” Moulson said. “It’s tough early on in games just to stay in them because of the penalties back and forth, but you have to find a way to kind of create that momentum.”
Brian Flynn received 15:53 of ice time, including almost four minutes on the penalty kill alone. Flynn acknowledged that the penalties made it hard for his team to get in a flow and create scoring chances.
“There’s no flow. We’re using mostly four guys on the PK there and then power play units. So there are probably five forwards or so who didn’t touch the ice until the 12-minute mark. I know I was playing with [Matt D’Agostini], he’s a good player. He’s a guy who’s here to help us score and he didn’t touch the ice until I think like the 11-minute mark in the first period. It makes it tough.”
Defenseman Henrik Tallinder said that the Sabres need to just have some more confidence and believe that they are capable of converting on their scoring opportunities.
“Most of the first two periods was just a battle of the penalty kill and power play. We created enough chances to win this game,” he said. “I think it’s a confidence thing that we can’t put it in the net. When things are going well we can put the puck in the net, but we didn’t do that today.”
The game began at a sluggish pace, as seven minor penalties were called between the two teams through the first 20 minutes. The Sabres registered five of their 11 first-period shots with the man advantage, with many of those chances coming from passes to the front of the net.
Forward Marcus Foligno struggled throughout the game. Foligno was called for three minor penalties in the first two periods, and his ice time dropped as a result of the penalties. Foligno only received 4:01 of ice time after the first period, and only played 21 seconds in the third period. On the whole, interim coach Ted Nolan was disappointed with the lack of discipline from his team.
“I don’t know about [Calgary’s] penalties, but when you cross check people and you grab people with one hand, those are penalties. We’ve got to stay out of the box,” Nolan said. “If you’re not scoring goals and killing penalties, guys get fatigued. Steve Ott, I believe, had [25:15] of ice time tonight, and that’s a little too much. When you take penalties like that, that’s what happens.
“You don’t mind penalties, but once they start getting lazy, grabbing people, cross-checking people for no reason, then you’re better off not playing.”
The Sabres’ penalty kill units saw extended work throughout the first two periods, as both teams stayed out of the box after the first 40 minutes. Tallinder was second among Sabres defensemen with 3:41 of ice time on the penalty kill.
“It’s just weird playing with all the penalties for me. A lot of high sticks and weird penalties, but it just happens. Some games are just like that,” Tallinder said.
While the Sabres were 23rd in the NHL entering this game with a penalty-kill percentage of 79.6 percent, their perfect effort against the Flames was the fourth-straight game that the Sabres did not give up a power play goal.
Flynn saw increased ice time due to the team’s penalties and was proud of his unit’s effort in today’s game.
“We didn’t give up a goal. That’s a few games in a row, we haven’t given up much, not many chances either,” he said. “I thought it was a positive on that end.”
Buffalo nearly opened the scoring about 11 minutes into the game at even strength as Ville Leino and Matt D’Agostini battled for a rebound in front of Ramo, but the net was knocked off by Flames center Matt Stajan and the goal was waved off.
Forward Matt Ellis joined the Sabres Saturday after scoring the ¬winning shootout goal on Friday outdoors as the Rochester Americans defeated the Lake Erie Monsters. This was Ellis’ first game with the Sabres this season, and he mostly played left wing on a line with Ville Leino at center and D’Agostini at right wing.
After today’s game, the Sabres have two days off before playing two more home games next week. Buffalo will host the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 17 at 7 pm, and then the Boston Bruins visit the First Niagara Center for a 7 p.m. game on Dec. 19.