(Photo Courtesy of Bill Wippert)
While areas south of the Buffalo metro area were getting slammed with an extremely bad lake effect snow event, the Sabres–Sharks game went on as scheduled. Through various social media accounts, plenty of fans were upset by the decision to play the game. Parts of South Buffalo and beyond were being buried under 5-6 feet of snow and with multiple travel bans, many of Buffalo’s fans were not going to make it to the game. There was an estimated 6,200 people that were able to make the game and my guess is that the majority were from the northern suburbs where not a inch of snow fell. If we were playing any team from the Eastern Conference, I feel that management would have looked a little closer into cancelling the game, however with San Jose already being in town and needing to return home for a game on Thursday, the decision to play the game had to be difficult.
Only one Sabre was unable to attend, that being Patrick Kaleta, who recently return to the lineup following an extended injury and rehab stint with the Rochester Americans. Kaleta lives in Angola, about 20 miles south of Buffalo and was snowed in and coach Ted Nolan thought it be best that he stayed safely at home. “I’d rather have Kaleta home safe than have him drive through dangerous conditions on the roads to make the game.”
Even with a sparse crowd cheering them on, Buffalo was able to find the back of the net 4 times in order to get their second straight win beating San Jose 4-1. This also marks the 8th straight win for Buffalo against San Jose. The first period saw both sides get goals waved off. The first was on Buffalo when Tyler Ennis went full steam sliding into Troy Grosenick. Ennis was sent to the box for goaltender interference. San Jose was called for a no goal moments later when Justin Braun went towards the net and slightly ran into Michal Neuvirth, along many can argue that Ennis also had a hand in hitting his own goalie and helping the situation.
Buffalo scored first in the second period on a lucky bounce from Nicolas Deslauriers, his 2nd of the season. As Cody McCormick was trying to just get the puck near the net, Deslauriers was able to get himself in the play and made a nice shot behind the goalie that bounced off his back and into the net. San Jose countered 5 minutes later on the powerplay when Brent Burns was able to make his slap shot go through the crowd of people in front of the net. This was Burns’ 7th goal of the season. Roughly a minute later, Brian Gionta scored his first goal of the season, making a quick release shot towards the net. Gionta hasn’t been able to score yet this season and it has been frustrating for the Sabres captain. “It’s a big relief,” he said. It’s been a long time and it weighs on you a little bit, but I thought our line was going well tonight, skating well and we created some chances.” Brian Flynn closed out the second period with just his second of the season. Gionta chipped the puck past the Sharks defender and skated hard with Flynn and passed the puck at just the right time for Flynn to make the one timer past Grosenick.
The third period saw another Sharks goal waved off when Patrick Marleau’s shot looked to cross the line. The goal was waved after further review and it was shown that Matt Moulson was able to get his stick in the way before the puck crossed the line and saved the goal. The only goal of the third period was an empty net goal scored by Gionta. He was on a 2 on 1 break with Zemgus Girgensons and while Gionta looked like he might pass the puck, he chose to keep it and get his second goal of both the game and the season.
The game also saw previous NHL goalie and current Sabres goaltending coach Arturs Irbe dress as a backup for Jhonas Enroth. Neuvirth started the game in goal for Buffalo but left the game with a lower body injury after the first period and in order to get a full roster of skaters, coach Ted Nolan turned to Irbe and asked him to dress as backup, just in case. “We started scrambling, looking for options and it’s a snow day, No. 1. And No. 2, it’s Independence Day for Latvia, for our tiny country today,” Irbe said after the game. “Ted said, “Arch, why don’t you be our security net just in case?’ Irbe last played professional hockey in 2007, so he would have been a little rusty, but with no other options he strapped on Enroth’s pads and borrowed a glove and blocker that used to belong to Ryan Miller and went to work. “I went about my business, started second period and thought I’m just going to be on standby,” stated Irbe. Neuvirth is expected to be out for a few games so a backup from Rochester is likely for the next couple of games.
San Jose flew home to host the Florida Panthers on Thursday while Buffalo will host the New York Rangers on Friday. Hopefully the current snow storm situation will lighten up in Buffalo and allow for more than 6,200 fans to attend the game.