It’s been a tough-go lately for the Buffalo Sabres, but the players are feeling all right after a come-from-behind victory Saturday night.
Down 3-0 in the third period to the New York Islanders on home ice, the Sabres were able to tie the game and then win it in the shootout.
Jhonas Enroth stopped all three shooters in the skills contest and sealed the win by stopping Islanders captain John Tavares, who had scored twice in the game.
Enroth is now 5-0 in the shootout this season and has allowed only one goal on 21 attempts against.
“I’ve got to keep fighting and give the team a chance to win. In the shootout there, I was pretty patient,” he said after practice Sunday at First Niagara Center. “I kind of knew [Tavares] was going to do something like that. I’ve seen him do similar stuff before. I just tried to stay patient and wait for his move.”
Enroth is aware that it’s going to be difficult for him to keep up this torrid pace, but as of right now, he’s confident in his ability and both the coaching staff and his teammates know they can count on him when the pressure’s on and he’s staring down some of the best shooters in the League.
“Right now he’s full of confidence and he sees the puck real well,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “He’s following it very well and knock on wood, in the shootouts, they don’t have too much to shoot at every time they come down on him, which means he’s in a great position.”
The Sabres are 6-1 in shootouts this season in large part because of Enroth’s play and also because Buffalo’s top shooters have also been performing well. Nolan has relied on Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons more than any other players so far this season. Each has taken six attempts. Ennis, now 3-for-6 this year, scored the game-deciding goal on Saturday.
The victory snapped an 0-3-1 slide for the Sabres and they’ll look to pick up another two points Monday night in Ottawa when they face the Senators.
“We need to go into Ottawa and play the same way we played in the third last night,” Ennis said. “But it’s nice. We got contributions from everyone. It’s been like that for a while and there’s a lot of positives moving forward. We’ve got to play with that confidence.”
The Sabres had gone on a 10-3-0 run before that latest winless streak. They’re 6-5-1 in the month of December, a big improvement from the first month of the season; they finished October 2-8-1.
The players and coaches believe being able to rally back like they did against the Islanders is a byproduct of them really becoming a team. It’s a process that began before the first game of the season.
“There were two ways we could handle it. We could come together and learn how to fight and win games and stick together or we could give up,” defenseman Tyson Strachan said. “I think you can tell in what we’ve done turning it around, the season right now, getting some wins, we came together as a group and it’s a lot of fun in here right now.”
Nolan credited his assistant coaching staff – consisting of Bryan Trottier, Danny Flynn, Tom Coolen and Arturs Irbe – and the veterans on the roster with helping to foster a new culture.
“One thing you want to do is give a team some structure and some discipline, let them mold and let them build upon themselves,” Nolan said. “You don’t police them and you don’t have to control them, they control themselves. They’re doing a tremendous job.
“And with [captain Brian] Gionta, he’s really led this team. Matty Moulson’s a little more vocal in the room. Tyler Ennis is starting to come forward and the guys are really starting to feel good about themselves.”
OPTIONS ON DEFENSE?
Nolan may have some decisions to make when it comes to personnel on the blue line. Tyler Myers remains out with a lower-body injury and Rasmus Ristolainen may be unavailable due to the flu. Ristolainen left Saturday’s game early in the second because he wasn’t feeling well and he did not practice on Sunday.
Andrej Meszaros also did not skate because he was given a maintenance day.
Strachan did practice and he’s close to returning after missing the past four games with a lower-body injury. He’ll make the trip to Ottawa and Nolan said he’s pretty close to coming back.
The Sabres called up Mark Pysyk from the American Hockey League in case they need a healthy body. Nolan is confident Pysyk will be able to step in without missing a beat. Pysyk has played in two games for Buffalo so far this season and has an even plus-minus rating.
“I’m very comfortable with him. I think he’s a very intelligent player and he’s paid his dues down in the American [Hockey] League,” Nolan said. “He did very well when he was here.”
As far as forwards go, Mikhail Grigorenko remains with the team as Brian Gionta, Torrey Mitchell and Marcus Foligno are still out with injuries. Nolan said Gionta could be out for at least another week with an upper-body injury and that Foligno could be back within six weeks as he recovers from surgery to repair damage done to his hand.
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 65 Brian Flynn – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 80 Chris Stewart
22 Johan Larsson – 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta
Defense: 3 Mark Pysyk, 4 Josh Gorges, 6 Mike Weber, 24 Tyson Strachan, 51 Nikita Zadorov, 61 Andre Benoit
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Did Not Skate: 12 Brian Gionta (injured, upper body), 17 Torrey Mitchell (injured reserve, lower body), 31 Matt Hackett (injured reserve, knee) 41 Andrej Meszaros (maintenance day), 55 Rasmus Ristolainen (flu), 57 Tyler Myers (injured, lower body), 82 Marcus Foligno (injured reserve, hand)