In the first game of the New Year, the Buffalo Sabres - the league's most potent even-strength team - won a 3-1 decision because their offense continued to attack and their goaltender made game changing saves. Ryan Miller
won his fourth consecutive start and 21st of the season by making 29-of-30 saves and carrying a shutout through 48 minutes.
Miller set the game's tone early with a flying glove-save on Richard Park midway through the first. After Arron Asham's shot rang off the crossbar, Miller dove back to the left post from the top of the crease and robbed Park of his fifth goal this season.
"[Asham] has a hard shot and it kind of crossed me up," said Miller. "I was looking to where it went. I saw Park had slipped to the side and I just had to get back."
"Everybody needs to realize how difficult that save is," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "First, you have to recognize where the rebound is. As a goaltender, you have no idea where a puck of the crossbar is going.
"For him to pick it up, and battle back to get some type of position on the next shot, showed a heck of an awareness on that play."
The decision was the third potential shutout that has slipped through Miller's fingers in the last three games. Jim Slater put Atlanta on the scoreboard last Wednesday with a goal at 2:41 in the third, while Carolina's Craig Adams scored with only a minute and nine seconds remaining in regulation on Saturday night.
"I've won every game," said Miller, who won blanked the Islanders 3-0 in the two teams first meeting on October 26 to record his lone shutout this season. "The boys have done a great job making sure we had more goals than they did."
"Ryan gives us a chance to win every night," said center Paul Gaustad. "He's one of those goaltenders that's always in the right place at the right time."
With their netminder making mind-blowing saves, Buffalo's forwards began work on New York netminder Rick DiPietro, who made 31 saves in defeat.
Snapping a 17-game goal drought, Gaustad gave Buffalo the 1-0 lead eight minutes into the first period.
Stationed in front on Buffalo's first power play, Gaustad converted a rebound from Brian Campbell's point shot into his sixth goal of the season at 8:06 on the power play. The Fargo, ND native hadn’t managed to tickle the twine since November 20 when he register a career-high two goals in Buffalo's 7-2 whooping of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Where I score the majority of my goals is in front of the paint," said Gaustad. "I just have to get there and clean up the trash that is just laying around."
Brendan Witt got his ankles broken by Maxim Afinogenov on Buffalo second score. Streaking down the wing, Afinogenov cut to the net and hit the brakes - sending Witt sprawling out of position - before snapping his 18th of the season over DiPietro's left shoulder.
"There was some pretty good north/south action," said Ruff.
The last Islander to score before the team's goal shortage was also the one to end it. A total of 186:31 minutes separated Jason Blakes 21st and 22nd goals of the season.
Blake scored New York's first goal in nearly three games with a backhander from the top of the crease at 8:19 to make the score 2-1 in favor of Buffalo.
Jochen Hecht fired into an empty net at 19:44 to score his 10th of the season.
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