It doesn’t take much to make Nikita Zadorov smile and scoring an overtime winner has now proven to the trick.
Zadorov one-timed a pass from Tyler Ennis 29 seconds into the extra period to give the Buffalo Sabres a 4-3 victory Saturday over the Florida Panthers at First Niagara Center.
“You can’t leave so much net against me. I’m not going to miss it,” the 19-year-old rookie defenseman said with a big grin.
The goal was Zadorov’s first of the season and the second of his career. He recorded the secondary assist on Cody Hodgson’s first period goal, giving him the first multi-point game of his career.
Scoring a game-winning goal in the NHL is something he’s waited a long time to do.
“Finally I did it and it’s a great feeling, especially in overtime in the National Hockey League. I probably never had that big a goal in my life,” he said. “It’s a great feeling and I’m going to try it again.”
The play in the Panthers zone was kept alive when Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons forced a turnover along the left halfwall. The puck went back to Zadorov at the point, who then sent it back in behind the net.
Girgensons collected it and left for Ennis, who dangled around in the corner, faked a shot and then sent a backhand pass to Zadorov, who one-timed it top shelf over Al Montoya.
“I just tried to buy a little time,” Ennis said. “I know trying to defend 4-on-4 is difficult when the D activate and kind of mess you up a little bit, so I told the D to jump in as much as they can when we have possession and Zaddy did that and it was a great way to win.”
Jhonas Enroth made 25 saves in the victory.
The game didn’t start out too smoothly for Zadorov or his defensive partner, 20-year-old Rasmus Ristolainen. The pair of 2013 first-round picks had their struggles, especially in the second period. Ristolainen was on for three goals against and Zadorov was on the ice for two Panthers goals.
The message from both the coaching staff and their teammates was to leave those plays behind and move on.
“Those plays in the second, those plays are going to happen. They came back to the bench and all the guys were really good,” Tyler Myers said. “We told them to just forget about it. Go out there and play like they have been. I thought they did a great job of bouncing back and it was nice to see Zaddy finish that one off.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan was impressed at how they were able to bounce back.
“When you’re developing, those are the types of ups and downs you have to go with. Ristolainen made a big turnover on that first goal and if you want to give the kid heck and blame him, the confidence isn’t going to stay,” Nolan said. “He has to learn from it and bounce back from it. We talked to both of them in between the periods about exactly that. To see Zadorov get that goal, it was nice to see.”
SHORTHANDED ON THE BLUE LINE
More responsibility was piled on when defensemen Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros both left the game in the second period with injuries. Meszaros caught a puck on the chin while Gorges felt some discomfort after blocking a shot.
Nolan said that both are doubtful for Monday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators.
Tyson Strachan may be ready to return from a lower-body injury, but Mike Weber is out recovering from knee surgery so it’s likely that a defenseman from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League will have to be called up to take a spot in the lineup.
The Sabres had to play pretty much the whole second half of the game with two defensive pairs. Myers ended up logging 29:35 of ice time as a result. He has averaged 26:42 in his last 10 games, the highest 10-game average of his career.
Buffalo got contributions from all over the lineup. Eleven different Sabres recorded a point.
Hodgson opened the scoring 2:06 into the game on a pass from Patrick Kaleta.
Hodgson was a healthy scratch last game and mentioned that watching the game from up top was beneficial because he was able to see the game from a different perspective. It proved to be beneficial and he was happy to be back on the ice again and help the team collect two points.
“I think earlier in the year, I would’ve probably tried to watch some plays but just knowing you have an extra foot, an extra half-a-second to make a play, take your time,” he said. “You see a lot more things open up and I think that helped.”
Marcus Foligno gave Buffalo a 2-0 lead with 6:55 remaining in the first. He has scored in consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 17 and 19, 2013.
The Panthers scored twice in the second to tie the game. Sean Bergenheim capitalized on a miscue at the 1:08 mark behind the Sabres net and tucked it home to make it 2-1. Then, 4:51 into the period, Jimmy Hayes one-timed a cross-ice pass from Bergenheim.
Then Myers found captain Brian Gionta from his own end on a pass that stretched three lines. The pass caught Gionta in stride and he wired a shot in past Montoya to tie the game 3-3.
“One reason that works is because he was screaming his head off for it. When you’ve got guys that want the puck that much, it makes it that much easier to get it to him. It was an all-around great play and it was a great finish by Gio.”
ROLLIN’, ROLLIN’, ROLLIN’
With tonight’s win, the Sabres have won nine games in a 12-game span (9-3-0) for the first time since Feb. 19 to March 12, 2012 (9-2-1).
Buffalo is also now 3-0-0 all-time when playing a game on a sequential date. Buffalo beat Ottawa 5-4 on April 5, 2006, and defeated Los Angeles 3-2 on Nov. 12, 2013. The next possible time the Sabres could play on a sequential date would be Jan. 2, 2103.
“Now we’re starting to play with some structure and some discipline,” Nolan said. “Anybody can beat anybody on a given night and right now, we feel pretty good. The team feels good about themselves and they’re playing hard for one another.
“When you do that, good things happen. Right now, knock on wood, things are going well for us right now.”
Their five-game winning streak at home is the team’s longest since they won five straight from Dec. 17, 2013 to Jan. 4, 2014. They’ll wrap up their current four-game homestand Monday against Ottawa before flying out to Winnipeg for a match against the Jets on Tuesday.
“It’s fun,” Ennis said. “We’re enjoying this run right now and we’ve got to keep growing and getting better, but we’re excited about how things are going.”