Over the last three games, the Sabres’ offense has been sparked by two defensemen who were paired together out of necessity.
When Jordan Leopold
, the usual defense partner of Steve Montador, sustained an upper-body injury and was held out of the lineup for last Saturday’s game against Detroit, Andrej Sekera
was inserted back into the lineup to take Leopold’s place alongside Montador. Although it was an injury to Leopold that forced them together, Sekera and Montador have been a dangerous tandem of late, combining for nine points over the last three games while Leopold has been sidelined.
“Both (Andrej) and I use our skating ability to our advantage and I think we know when one guy is going, the other guy is going to be supporting him,” Montador said when asked why the pair has clicked. “In the offensive zone, we’re willing to pinch when we see the time is right and willing to try to keep the puck in and do the things to support each other as much as possible.”
Montador added that he has even learned some Slovakian words to help the on-ice communication between him and Sekera, a native of Bojnice, Slovakia.
Before sliding into Leopold’s spot alongside Montador, Sekera had been a healthy scratch for the previous three games. At the time, Head Coach Lindy Ruff said Sekera had been struggling with his reads and decisions regarding puck movement. When Sekera returned for the Detroit game, he immediately made an impact.
I think (Andrej) has just played outstanding since he came back. He’s really skated well. He’s been a force to be reckoned with when it comes to a guy with the puck. You can’t get it from him, he’s getting up ice quick, making it really tough on the opposition. - Head Coach Lindy Ruff
In the 3-2 overtime loss to the Red Wings, Sekera made two highlight-reel plays in the first period. He began by joining a rush and sniping a perfect backhand shot over the shoulder of Red Wings goalie Joey McDonald for his second goal of the season. Two minutes later, he was leading the rush and banked the puck off the boards to get around a Detroit defender and gain entry into the zone before feeding Mike Grier in front for another goal.
“I know he was excited to get back in the lineup after being out for a couple of games and he was super motivated and came out with both guns blazing in the first period of the first game he was back,” Montador said. “I knew once he got his chance that he would want to make the best of it so I’m happy to be playing with him.”
Sekera went on to collect two assists in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Rangers and added two more helpers in Thursday’s overtime loss to Carolina, giving him a goal and five assists, as well as a +3 rating, in the last three outings. His six-point outburst marks the most productive three-game stretch of his career.
|Steve Montador (Photo: Bill Wippert) |
“I think (Andrej) has just played outstanding since he came back,” said Ruff. “He’s really skated well. He’s been a force to be reckoned with when it comes to a guy with the puck. You can’t get it from him, he’s getting up ice quick, making it really tough on the opposition.”
For his part, Montador has recorded a goal and two assists since joining forces with Sekera, including a goal and an assist in the Carolina game and one assist against the Rangers. Overall, Montador has five points (1-4-5) and a +6 rating in his last four games. He leads the Sabres with a +14 rating for the season.
“One of (Montador’s) strengths is he gets his shot away quickly, he moves it across (the blue line) quickly in open lanes before they close down,” Ruff said of how Montador has combined with Sekera to help generate more offense.
Both Montador (5-15-20) and Sekera (2-16-18) are on pace for career-highs in points this season. Sekera is just one point shy of matching the career-high 19 points he posted in 2008-09.
Montador is three points away from tying the career-best 23 points he reached both last season and in 2007-08. He has also helped Leopold tie his own personal bests with 11 goals and 33 points on the year.
“Both (Leopold and Sekera) have a lot of skill and I’ve been able to feed off their play,” Montador said.
Whether or not the pairing of Sekera and Montador remains intact once Leopold returns to the lineup remains to be seen, but the duo certainly played key roles as Buffalo captured four of six points during a critical three-game stretch.