As the final horn sounded after overtime at HSBC Arena, Lindy Ruff found himself in a familiar situation.
With 13 of the Buffalo Sabres games decided by a shootout last season, Ruff knows all too well the importance of selecting the right personnel. He opted to rely on a familiar source in Ales Kotalik.
The winger led the team in shootouts in the 2007-08 campaign, scoring five times in 12 attempts and totaling a 41.7 percent success rate.
Kotalik continued the trend Friday night as he buried the puck past Montreal Canadiens’ netminder Carey Price en route to a 2-1 victory.
“It’s good to know that the team has confidence in me,” Kotalik said. “I’m confident in those situations.”Drew Stafford
beat Price in the Sabres’ second attempt and Ryan Miller
turned away both Robert Lang and Saku Koivu to clinch the win. The momentum, however, began with Kotalik’s backhand on the initial shot following the extra frame.
“I have confidence in a couple moves and they’ve been working,” he said. “When a goalie adjusts to my tendencies I’ll move to something else. It’s been working so far for me… It’s a good feeling to start right and hopefully in the next shootout we can be more confident and get more points out of it than last season.”
The Sabres claimed victory in only four of the 13 games that went to a shootout last season.
“We know that and we tried to focus on that in practice... it’s good we got off to the right foot this year and hopefully that shootout luck is going to continue for us.
“There’s always pressure when you go on a shootout. It’s you against the goalie and there is only one winner… It’s good to have one right off the bat go your way.
Kotalik credits goaltending coach Jim Corsi for exploiting holes in opposing stoppers like Price.
“When he finds something that works, we’ll try it,” Kotalik said. “I’m confident that if you execute it right the goalie doesn’t have much of a chance.
“But I’m just happy we got two points out of this first game.”
Ruff addressed Tim Connolly’s status in his post-game comments. The centerman did not play in the season opening game due to “a hairline fracture in the vertebrae in his back.”
After missing five preseason contests, Connolly practiced with the team all week leading up to Friday’s matchup, as well as the morning skate prior to the game.
“We really felt that he could get through it, the doctors felt that he could get through it, but he couldn’t,” Ruff said. “It just got too painful.”
The injury appears to be a “short-term thing” according to Ruff.
“He’ll be a question mark for a week… but I don’t think it will be too much longer than that,” he said. “That’s the time period the doctors have thrown out. We’re doing further test we’re really digging deep. It’s one of those things that doesn’t show up on an X-ray and a MRI its one of those things.”
Fortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, history has a way of repeating itself.
The last time Buffalo faced the Montreal Canadiens in a home opener was Oct. 6, 2006 when the Sabres walked away with a 5-4 shootout win. Friday night's game turned out to be a repeat performance.
The victory improves the Sabres season-opening record to 21-14-3 all-time through 38 seasons. Buffalo is 15-6-3 when opening the season at home.
A special Sabres fan at the game tonight was 7-year-old Derek Andrews.
The Buffalo native, who is battling an unidentified muscular disorder, is a finalist for Sports Illustrated Kid of the Year.
Andrews was selected out of 5,500 children to become a finalist. His message to all Buffalo Sabres fans is, “still vote for me!” by clicking here