Sabres/NHL Notebook: Sabres-Bruins rematch was entertaining; Coyotes have nice combination of experience and youth
Thursday November 24, 2011 | By:Mike Haim, Special to Metro
I kept saying “nothing will happen” prior to Wednesday’s much-hyped game between the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins.
I’ve rarely been happier to have been more wrong.
While the NHL “gently” reminded the teams to avoid “shenanigans” in their first meeting since Boston’s Milan Lucic barreled over still-sidelined Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, I figured the teams would still play physical, solid hockey with a minimum of “payback.”
I was proven wrong 83 seconds in, when Paul Gaustad fought Lucic on each player’s first shift. I also thought – wrongly again - that any issue between the two clubs was settled. But Gaustad got mugged by Adam McQuaid about 10 minutes later, and it became obvious that this would not fall into the category of a “normal” game.
The Sabres lost in a shootout after the game eventually calmed down, but fans had to be pleased to see the Sabres play with playoff-like intensity and somewhat avenge the events of 11 days earlier.
The first period was full of sharp hits, strong checks, and the kind of physical play seen in the playoffs. And Buffalo even took a 2-0 lead on Tim Thomas, who hadn’t given up a goal on the road in 234 minutes and 5 seconds, or nearly four full games.
Boston clawed its way back with a pair of power play goals and came back twice from two-goal deficits.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Gaustad said. “It’s unfortunate about the outcome.”
Gaustad also addressed his fight with Lucic.
“It was an unfortunate incident in Boston,” Gaustad said. “I give credit to Milan for fighting. It’s something where guys don’t have to and he did. I wanted to step up after I thought I could have done more in the (previous) Boston game.”
There seemed to be a little delay by coach Lindy Ruff in deciding which line to put on the ice when Lucic jumped over the boards. Ruff quipped, “There was no debate. We were just talking about how much fun it was going to be.”
It was fun for everyone who watched it too.
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While games in Buffalo against Northeast Division opponents - Boston, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal – often bring out the best elements of those rivalries, it’s still special to see the relatively rare visit by a Western Conference team.
At first glance, it’s hard to get excited by an appearance by the Phoenix Coyotes, but the team’s recent play made them an intriguing opponent last Saturday.
The ‘Yotes pulled out a 4-2 win, with the game winning goal scored by Paul Bissonnette, the native of nearby Welland, Ontario who is better known for his dynamic Twitter account (biznasty2point0).
Buried within the feel-good account of Bissonnette scoring - with his mother and grandfather each seeing him play live for the first time ever as an NHLer – is the fact that the Coyotes have become one of the league’s better teams with a fine blend of veterans and youngsters.
Graybeards Ray Whitney, 39 years old, and captain Shane Doan, 35, have taken to nurturing the kids, including defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who turned 20 over the summer, and Mikkel Boedker, who will turn 22 in December.
“I don’t know if it’s teaching as much and encouraging and pointing out things,” Doan said. “On some nights, those two young guys are our best players.”
Ekman-Larsson, the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft, scored one goal with 10 assists in 48 games as a rookie season last year. He already has four goals and seven points this season.
Coach Dave Tippett likes the progress of the Swede: “He’s playing with a lot more confidence. He knows what to expect from each and every game, and he’s played most of the year with Adrian Aucoin, who’s a good veteran mentor.”
“I know I can play up here,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I try to have fun out there and play my game.”
“Ek is going to be a special player,” Doan said. “If it was something he was going to struggle with, he already would have.”
The Coyotes bolstered their lineup even further on Tuesday, signing Kyle Turris, the 22-year old who finally ended his ill-advised holdout.
Phoenix remains a team that we don’t get to see too much of on conventional NHL coverage from NBC, Versus, or CBC. But they should continue to be one of the more interesting teams as the season rolls on.
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