Ryan Miller slides across his crease to stop a shot by New Jersey’s Steve Sullivan on Sunday. ©2013, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres overcome crowd and Devils to win in shootout

BUFFALO – Not long ago, the Sabres might’ve wilted under the intense pressure, lost a game like Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win over the freefalling New Jersey Devils.

For at least 15 minutes – from late in the first period until midway through the game – the Devils hemmed the Sabres in their own zone, pumping chance after chance on goalie Ryan Miller as they sustained almost constant pressure.

It looked like the reeling Devils enjoyed a marathon power play.

The 18,703 fans inside the First Niagara Center responded accordingly, booing and moaning throughout the Sabres’ wretched stretch.

“They want to see better,” Miller said. “But sometimes it’s going to be a battle. Sometimes it’s going to be hard. We need their help. We need them to be behind us. We hear them. We know they’re not happy.

“But the encouragement we can get when we’re in a tight game, that can help for some of these young guys.

Occasionally, when the Sabres cleared the zone, the crowd serenaded them with Bronx cheers.

“That’s the way it’s been since I’ve been here,” interim coach Ron Rolston said about the crowd’s reaction. “We understand … our job is continue to do what we can do to change that.”

By the end, when Nathan Gerbe’s shootout goal and Miller’s glove save on Travis Zajac secured a third straight win, the Sabres had shifted the atmosphere dramatically, bringing the roaring crowd to its feet.

Was Sunday a survival test?

“Resilient is basically what it was,” Rolston said.

Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta, who scored his first goal this season, added: “We got to get those lulls out of the game.”

Nonetheless, the Sabres got through the lulls, grabbing the lead from Steve Ott’s goal 13:44 into the second period. Mark Fayne’s short-handed score 5:46 into the third period tied it.

Two more points crept the Sabres up one spot to 11th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the eighth-place New York Islanders (42-38).

The ninth-place Devils (40 points) earned a consolation point. Still, they’re 0-3-4 in the last seven games, their first seven-game winless skid since November 2001.

Miller doesn’t care how the Sabres won, an attitude he’d like the home crowd to embrace.

“We’d appreciate it if they hang around, stay for the whole game, be excited, have fun,” said Miller, who made 37 saves. “We’re trying our hardest out there. You saw some sacrifice out there. You saw some good hockey. I would be proud if I were from Buffalo to say, ‘My Sabres won that game.’ That’s the kind of game you’re going to have sometimes.

“We’re going to try to clean it up so it’s a little prettier. But if it’s going to be like that and we get two points, I don’t really mind.”

Kaleta’s first goal since Feb. 8, 2012, a 53-game stretch, opened the scoring 4:22 into the game. The Angola native didn’t even have a point in his first 27 games this season.

“I’ve been saying for years my role model was (former Sabres captain) Michael Peca because he could do anything you asked him to do,” Kaleta said. “I’m not quite there yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be. But it’s something I try to take pride in being a well-rounded player.”

Kaleta converted Jochen Hecht’s feed in front of goalie Martin Brodeur, his 27th NHL score.

“I said, ‘Old man, it’s about time you hit me there,” Kaleta joked about the 35-year-old Hecht.

Rolston lauded the play of Hecht, Kaleta and tough guy John Scott, the Sabres’ fourth line, calling the trio the team’s best at times.

Scott, who thumped David Clarkson in the second period, played a season-high 9:11.

“They battle and give you everything they have,” Rolston said.

Steve Sullivan’s power-play goal tied it at 18:20, the early stages of the Devils’ dominance.

Ott said the Devils “weren’t getting good scoring opportunities.”

“Yet our fans were booing us on every opportunity,” said Ott, who had 10 of the Sabres’ 44 hits. “Those kind of things are disappointing in a sense that we created momentum from having a hard-working defensive zone shift, catching it on the offense, scoring big goals, timely goals, and those are the ones that win you games.”

8 thoughts on “Sabres overcome crowd and Devils to win in shootout”

  1. Face it, the crowds at the Niagara Center (or whatever they’re calling it this week) have a lousy attitude. They don’t understand that this Sabres team is emerging from the muck and is achieving without stars, which is probably the way things should be for Buffalo.

    So the Sabres play rope a dope until they can get some key players to control the puck. So what? It isn’t much entertainment but they’re not giving up goals either. Hang in there Sabres crowd at FNC, don’t be the spoiled, comatose jackasses that you look like on TV…you have another Cinderella team in the making on your hands.

  2. Everyone is pining for what used to be – a playoff caliber team – rather than enjoying what they have – a team in progress. The truth is, there is some pretty good hockey being played at times. Certainly in goal. But definitely not on the power play. And knowledgeable Buffalo fans recognize the importance of a power play to winning hockey games. So, until this obvious problem is fixed, the booing isn’t going to stop. That doesn’t mean the fans have turned tail and run. They are just expressing their displeasure over the obvious defect that the team and players need to remedy. And as for the Cinderella team, no one is going to recognize this team in two years – they are going to be that good.

  3. The crowd has every right to boo a team that’s spent the majority of the season asleep. Sabres fans deserve better. We deserve a team that lays it all on the line night in and night out. Isn’t that what they get paid millions to do? The players shouldn’t expect the fans to cheer them just because they’re just now starting to produce. The players need to quite complaining about it, get over it and keep producing wins. If they do, they will regain the respect of the fans.

  4. I was there again last night, again, more embarrassed of the fans than those “lulls.” Honestly, throughout those periods they were kept to the outside and many of their shots weren’t great chances. Foligno and Adam were especially lost defensively, and when Ennis tried to compensate he ended up compounding the errors. But the effort’s there. Fans yelling, “get the puck out” and “skate” are the same ones yelling “shoot” when there’s no lane. It’s frustrating, and I’ve always dreamed of a supporters section similar to European (and now even American) soccer who only sing songs of encouragement and wit. Unfortunately, we’re more interested in drinking and complaining and perpetuating our losing culture. Hopefully the fans will lose patience so I can climb the list for season tickets and start a real supporter’s section. One where we’re proud of the players and they’re proud of us.

  5. “The Money” argument and “The Effort” argument. Buffalo’s standbys. Consumers buy all sorts of things, doesn’t give them the right to boo/abuse employees of a company – that’s not what your money buys. And effort? Anyone who legitimately feels that the Sabres don’t care about their performance is quite simply delusional. These athletes never would have reached this level if they didn’t care about their performance and results. The money they earn us directly tied to their effort. Sure, they might not be as talented or as developed as their opponents, but the one they can control is their effort, they’ll bring it. What most fans mistake for nonchalance is a lack of confidence, which is directly tied to the fans booing among other things.

  6. Right. So fans should cheer when the Sabres play like they are just ‘happy to be here.’

    While we’re at it, let’s all pitch in for medals that say ‘Good Effort.’ We’ll give one to each player at the season-end pizza party, which will be held at some player’s parents’ house.

    You guys try hard sometimes!! Yay for you.

    Give me a break.

  7. Do any of the Sabres look “happy to be here?” Again, our players are putting in the same effort the other teams are, even moreso sometimes. Effort can fluctuate with schedule congestion and fatigue, but it’s ridiculous to think these players don’t care about winning. Again, home-field advantage is a real phenomenon across all sports. (This includes sports where teams don’t have rule-based advantages like the last change in hockey.) Supporting affects the team positively.

  8. I appreciate those points. I want to clarify something and then argue respectfully with points you make.

    Nowhere did I say that the Sabres “don’t care about winning.” But I called them ‘happy to be here.’ That was definitely imprecise. (And yeah, I agree with you: few of them look happy to be here except Ott and sometimes Foligno. Not that looking happy measures much…) My point is that some Sabres expect fans to embrace them for trying.
    A) That’s pathetic, given this season, team payroll, and recent history.
    B) That’s hypocrisy. By their own admission, the Sabres regularly struggle to play hard for 60.

    You mentioned the schedule as a reason for fatigue. Sure. But it excuses little about this team particularly because every team’s schedule is compressed. Everything the schedule argument implies is damning:
    -Are the Sabres poorly conditioned compared to other teams? (They ‘lead’ the league in minor penalties, which could be a sign of fatique if not a lack of discipline or smarts.)
    -Do the Sabres not travel as well as teams that win more?
    In Florida recently, they were scheduled against the wretched Florida teams consecutively — with a day off in between. They lost both games.
    Given all that, asserting rigor of schedule mitigates very little.

    I am not sure the argument that the Sabres put in the “same effort” as other teams flies. That’s not because I disagree. Rather, Sabres coaches and players themselves acknowledge otherwise in many post-game interviews / press conferences. And that is where the booing comes in.

    That giving a full effort remains so hard to come by – and that the Sabres acknowledge it repeatedly – condemns their commitment and professionalism.

    Any fan could struggle to invest in a team that confesses its own lack of effort as often as the Sabres do. The expectation that no fans will resent it seems unreasonable.

    Meanwhile, the booing could be from a cumulative effect…
    Here’s a half-*ssed theory. Booing this year by fans is like a fight between brothers or between a husband and wife. When they boo, they’re booing a list /history of failings by the team, not only what’s happening in the moment.

    I’d argue the organization might take solace in the booing. Sure it means fans don’t believe in the team. Fans don’t boo the occasional bad effort / flub if they consider their team a winner…. But the booing means fans still care.

    That said, there seemed to be more empty seats than usual near the ice for the last home game. (Think, if Buffalo’s winters were better…)

    Steve Ott is a new Sabre with a short memory. I want Ott to hate the booing. But I would rather he complain about it to the owner or to his teammates than to the fans. Fans’ long memories aren’t the problem.

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