Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – The Buffalo Sabres know that they have
the entire country of Latvia behind them, but their recent string of success
may start to bring the rest of Western New York back into the fold.
When the Sabres fell to 3-13-2 following a loss to the Minnesota Wild on Nov.
13, those fans still left watching the club likely went to bed with continued
fantasies of junior superstar Connor McDavid speeding around First Niagara
Center sporting the navy blue and gold.
After all, the Sabres seemed destined at having the best chance at securing
the top selection in the upcoming draft, earning the right to select either
McDavid or fellow center Jack Eichel. Both players are believed to have the
ability to cornerstone a franchise, something Buffalo seemed to desperately
need at the time.
Maybe the Sabres still do, but head coach Ted Nolan and his players weren’t
really on board with the whole “tanking” thing and have instead decided to,
you know, go out and win games.
Buffalo has won eight of 11 since that loss to the Wild. Now tied for 26th out
of the 30 teams in the overall NHL standings, the Sabres are talking — and
more importantly playing — like a team that believes it can win each night.
“I think this team has taken a 180 from where we were at the start of the
year,” said forward Matt Moulson. “I think now we believe in each other and
we’re competing a lot harder. We know what we have to do to have success and
Thursday’s home encounter with the Calgary Flames, a gutsy 4-3 win, was a
perfect example of Sabres hockey as of late.
Twice in the game, the Sabres failed to hold a lead and they then fell behind
by a goal just 3:14 into the third frame.
The Buffalo Sabres that took the ice in October and the early part of November
likely would have folded and gone home, but not this newly-inspired bunch.
Instead, future All-Star Zemgus Girgensons (more on that later) put home a
game-tying goal and Moulson came through with a game-winner with 7:29 to play.
That gave the Sabres a victory despite the squad getting outshot 45-19.
“It wasn’t one of our better games, but it showed that the belief factor is
starting to creep in. We weren’t in the game, but we still believed we could
come back,” said Nolan.
There is no doubt that Nolan’s club plays with fire each night. Even during
its string of success, the Sabres have scored more than two goals only twice
in their last nine and remain dead-last in the NHL with 1.66 goals per game.
But confidence in the defense and goaltending, especially Jhonas Enroth, has
been key. The Sabres have allowed two goals or fewer five times over the
aforementioned nine-game span and have avoided beating themselves with bad
“You’re not going to have an A-game every night, but if you’re doing those
little things right, they’re going to pay off,” noted Moulson.
It has certainly helped Enroth, who is 7-2-0 over his last nine games with a
1.93 goals against average and .944 save percentage.
Nolan pointed out after Thursday’s win how the line of Moulson, Girgensons and
Tyler Ennis, one that was put together back in mid-November, has helped to
spark the club.
Girgensons, meanwhile, is starting to become a little famous around the NHL,
much like he already is back in his home country of Latvia. The 20-year-old’s
goal versus the Flames was his career-high ninth of the season, surpassing the
eight he scored in 70 games as a rookie last season.
Now, nine goals through 29 games and 16 points that don’t even lead the team
certainly don’t scream All-Star, but the much-argued tradition of fan voting
has led to an unforeseen turn of events.
When Tuesday’s update of the All-Star voting was released, Girgensons
continued to pace the pack with 803,805 votes.
To put that into perspective, the second-leading getter in votes is Chicago’s
Patrick Kane — with 375,758.
That, of course, is possible due to online voting, giving the entire world a
say in who will skate in this season’s All-Star Game. According to the Sabres,
82 percent of Girgensons’ votes came from Latvians.
“It’s crazy. People back home are just crazy hockey fans, Girgensons, the 14th
overall pick of the 2012 draft and native of Riga, Latvia, told “NHL Live” on
Wednesday. “It’s always been like that. It’s fun, it’s cool, mixed emotions.
It’s funny at the same time.”
What isn’t funny is teams still expecting to pick up easy wins against the