Buffalonians may love their hot wings and beef on weck, but the Buffalo Sabres‘ food of choice must be turnovers.
The Sabres gobbled up two first-period Dallas Stars turnovers Monday afternoon and transformed them into the first two goals of a 4-1 victory. Along the way, they drove the visiting Stars, and Jamie Benn in particular, to distraction.
As good as the 2015-16 season was for the Stars’ captain, 2016-17 has been frustrating, to say the least. Asked what he thought of his game right now, Benn, who angrily broke three sticks at the end of the second period, said, “Pretty bad. That’s taking it easy on myself, too. I wish I could say how I really feel, but it’s probably not good for TV.”
After the game, Stars coach Lindy Ruff voiced his concerns about his captain’s play.
“He has struggled for a period of time. His struggles out there were easy to see,” said Ruff. “He’s fighting through his injury, but he’s in the lineup so you’ve got to assume he’s ready to go. I see the frustration. It’s hard…It’s been a tough year for him.”
It’s been a tough year for the rest of the team, as well: With today’s loss, the Stars drop to 18-19-8 on the season. Unable to get on a roll, their playoff hopes are fading fast. They’ll try yet again to right this ship Tuesday night against the Rangers.
For the Sabres, another team on the outside of the playoff picture, the victory was a feel-good moment, a building block for a brighter future. As their happy fans headed home, the team headed for Toronto, where they’ll try to keep the good vibes going against the Maple Leafs tomorrow.
19 seconds was all it took for the Sabres to find the back of the net, as Tyler Ennis pounced on a turnover in the offensive zone and rifled the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.
The visitors, who own the worst road penalty kill in the NHL, allowed the home team two power play opportunities in the period.
Brett Ritchie’s hi-sticking penalty at 7:12 was killed off by the Stars, but two minutes after Ritchie left the box, Radek Faksa took his still-warm seat. This time, the Sabres made the Stars pay. Jamie Benn tried to clear the puck up the middle of the ice, but Buffalo defenseman Jake McCabe intercepted the puck and gave his club a two-goal lead.
The Stars mustered a response a few minutes later, when Jiri Hudler’s shot went off the post, off the net-crashing Faksa and in.
Jiri Hudler’s shot rings off the short side post and off Faksa’s leg. 2-1 Buffalo. pic.twitter.com/Xc2kUWqU3v
— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) January 16, 2017
The period ended with the Sabres ahead 2-1 on the scoreboard and up 13-9 in shots on goal.
“Frustration” was the theme of the second period for Dallas. The visitors appeared to tie the game 90 seconds in, but Stephen Johns’ blast from the point was erased by Patrick Eaves entering the zone mere inches ahead of the puck.
Minutes later, the Stars were whistled for Too Many Men, putting the Sabres back on the power play. With 10 seconds remaining in the man-advantage and a scrum in front of Lehtonen on the left side of the crease, the puck squirted out to Jack Eichel, who was all alone on the opposite side of the net. The budding star buried his chance, giving the home team a 3-1 lead.
Jamie Benn expressed his, and his club’s, frustration late in the period by breaking one stick on the ice at the end of a shift, then snapping two more twigs over his knee on the bench as the frame ended.
The final 20 minutes played out at a glacial pace. Leading 3-1, the Sabres adopted a defensive posture and kept the Stars on the perimeter for the majority of the period. On the rare occasions in which opportunities did present themselves, the visitors often frittered them away with one-too-many passes.
Lehtonen was the Stars’ best player in the third period, making a couple of big saves to keep the game close. With 2:48 remaining, he was pulled for an extra attacker.
Most of the visitor’s six-on-five time was spent uneventfully in the offensive zone, as the Sabres couldn’t clear the puck and the Stars couldn’t put a shot on goal. Finally, Eichel broke free in the waning seconds and skated the puck into the empty net to put the game away.
BUF – Tyler Ennis (2) unassisted
BUF – Jake McCabe (1) (PPG) unassisted
DAL – Radek Faksa (6) assisted by Jiri Hudler (4)
BUF – Jack Eichel (9) (PPG) assisted by Sam Reinhart (19) and Kyle Okposo (16)
BUF – Jack Eichel (10) (ENG)
THW Three Stars
First: Jake McCabe (1 goal)
Second: Robin Lehner (31 saves)
Third: Jack Eichel (2 goals)
Dallas Stars at New York Rangers
Madison Square Garden – 6:00 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Jan. 17
Broadcast channels: FS-SW+, MSG, SN, SN1, TVAS
2016-17 Season Series: December 15 – Rangers 2, Stars 0
Buffalo Sabres at Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Center – 7:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Jan. 17
Broadcast channels: MSG-B, SNO
2016-17 Season Series: November 3 – Maple Leafs 2, Sabres 1
Matt blogged about all things hockey at On Goal Analysis/The OGA Blogs from 2008-2014 and has written several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News. He began covering the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers in August 2015. Matt is also writing a biography of “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers and the Madison Square Garden Corporation.