March 18, 2007
by Brian Wheeler
A year ago the Buffalo Sabres were cruising into the playoffs with one of the deadliest power plays in the league. What a difference a year makes.
This season, the Sabres are still pummeling through opponents, but it's by five-on-five scoring. Buffalo hasn't scored with the man advantage in a season-high seven games and the units' lack of production cost the team a point in a Sunday matinee with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Buffalo extended its scoreless streak to 23 power plays going 0-5 in a 4-3 overtime defeat at the Philips Arena. On the other side of the coin, Atlanta went 3-5 with the man advantage, including the game winner by Keith Tkachuk four minutes into the extra frame.
"We need to work on some little things in order to get better," said Derek Roy. "Mostly, the power play. We can't avoid that. They scored three power-play goals and we didn't scored one. They end up winning the game by one goal.
"One goal on the power play could have boosted our team."
Buffalo's power play ranked third in the league during the 2005-06 season, converting on 21.2 percent of their chances, but that production has dropped to 17.4 percent this season, good for 18th in the league. The Sabres haven't scored with the man advantage since Mar. 3.
All four of Buffalo's shots in overtime came during the team's two-minute advantage with Tkachuk in the penalty box.
"We had our chance in overtime to score, but they got their power play and scored," said Teppo Numminen. "Special teams didn't work for us this time.
"We tried to get pucks to the net but it just didn't go in this time. They've got a lot of talent and a good power play, so it cost us tonight."
The loss wraps up a successful four-game road trip where Buffalo earned six out of a possible eight points. Buffalo became the first team to officially clinch a playoff berth when Montreal defeated Toronto 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday night.
"Both games that we ended up losing, we battled right to the end," said Roy concerning the road trip. "The game in Pittsburgh, we battled to the end and into the shootout. Tonight, we came back and scored a goal late in the game. It just proves the character on this team."
The third line of Roy between Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek recorded all three Buffalo goals during regulation.
Stafford recorded his third goal in as many games in the first period, Vanek snapped an eight-game drought with his 35th of the season in the second, while Roy's 15th of the season midway through the third sent the game into overtime. Ryan Miller turned away 27-of-31 shots.
"That line had a good night for us," said Lindy Ruff. "It's good to see Thomas get back on the board. Obviously, we take a lot of pride in having depth of scoring. We need those guys scoring."
Ilya Kovalchuk ripped a slap shot over Miller's glove from the point with a two-man Atlanta advantage to record his 38th goal of the season and gave the Thrashers a 1-0 lead at 3:50 of the first.
Buffalo utilized their great speed on a two-on-one rush to tie the game. Stafford fired a wristshot into the top-right corner of the net after receiving an across-ice feed from Roy at 6:11 of the opening frame. The tally gave Stafford seven goals in the 14 games since being recalled from Rochester on Feb. 16.
On another two-on-one rush, Eric Belanger pumped a shot fake, getting Miller to commit low, and fired over the netminder's right shoulder to give Atlanta a 2-1 lead with just over four minutes remaining before the first intermission.
Buffalo tied the game heading into the third with the lone second period score.
Skating four a side, Numminen's wristshot from the right halfwall was redirected by Vanek, who was fighting off Greg De Vries for position in front, to knot the score 2-2 at 16:07. The goal was Vanek's first since Mar. 3 at Toronto.
"It's four-on-four, so it was kind of man-on-man," said Numminen of goal which he helped setup. "If a man is on you, you know there is somebody backing you up. You can take a few more chances."
Former Sabre Alexei Zhitnik gave Atlanta the 3-2 lead with the Thrashers' second power-play goal of the game. The 34-year-old defenseman's hard slapshot from the point deflected off the right post into the net to register his seventh goal of the season and second as a member of the Thrashers.
Zhitnik was acquired by Atlanta from Philadelphia for defenseman Braydon Coburn on Feb. 24.
Taking advantage of a stunned goaltender, Roy evened the score 3-3, collecting Henrik Tallinder's rebound off the back boards and firing into a wide-open net at 12:25 of the third. Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen was leveled when Tallinder's blast caromed off the side of his mask.
"I knew it hit him in the head, but I didn't know he was stunned," said Roy concerning Lehtonen's status on the play. "In my defense, he did throw his leg out to try to make the save. It's not like he was down-and-out."
Tkachuk's one-timer from the slot off a Vyacheslav-Kozlov pass gave Atlanta the victory in overtime at 4:22.
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Quotes and audio courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.