The action in this game didn't pick up until 4:00 into the period, when the Avalanche took their first penalty of the night (a Zach Redmond hook) and sent the Sabres' league-worst power play to work. The first penalty killing unit of Guenin, Stuart, Cliche and McLeod was trapped in their zone early and gave up a great chance off Stuart and into Varlamov's pads, but the Avalanche's next two units shut down Buffalo's attack with ease. The best chance of the Buffalo power play came for the Avalanche short handed when Ryan O`Reilly picked off a puck in the neutral zone, then pulled off a give-and-go with Alex Tanguay which O'Reilly tipped just wide of the net.
After the power play expired the Avalanche started to flex their superior hockey-ing-muscles against this very weak Sabres team and created a number of high quality chances. On one opportunity Joey Hishon stole the puck with an impressive stick lift then drove the net and tried to beat Anders Lindback on the short-side. Lindback made the save. A few shifts later Matt Duchene attempted his patented move on the Sabres D, driving the right wing then cutting towards the crease and shooting under the defenseman's stick, but Lindback's glove deflected his shot wide.
In a true testament to the ability of this Sabres' team, the Avalanche would strike first... on the stick of Marc Andre Cliche. The play started when Nick Holden played the puck at the left point and took a shot on net. The puck deflected behind the net for Cody McLeod and McLeod fed Cliche in the crease with a nice backhand pass down low. Cliche took a one-timer and the puck deflected off Matt Moulson, hopped up in the air, and found its way over Lindback into the Sabres' net. 1-0 Avalanche.
The Avalanche doubled their lead just 33 seconds later when their 2nd line attacked the offensive zone with speed. Jarome Iginla slid the puck from center to Matt Duchene on the right side as they rushed up the ice. Duchene pulled u as he reached the half-boards and he found John Mitchell crashing the net with a quick saucer pass. The puck deflected off Mitchell's stick and into the net as Mitchell was spun around by a Mikael Grigorenko hook. 2-0 Avalanche.
The Sabres pushed back some after the 2nd Avalanche goal and created a few quality chances, but Semyon Varlamov made a couple of quality saves to preserve the shutout early on. Late in the period Alex Tanguay tried to play give-and-go with Nick Holden on the point in the offensive zone, but Holden fumbled the puck over to Marcus Foligno, then tackled him to prevent a Sabres breakaway. On the ensuing penalty kill Dennis Everberg singlehandedly killed the first 60 seconds with a strong defensive play in his own zone, a good clear up the boards, and then an unrelenting forecheck out near center ice.
At the end of the period there was some increased physical play from both sides. First Brad Stuart was tackled in his own zone by Zac Dalpe. Stuart was furious about the interference and moments later Gabe Landeskog laid a big hit on Dalpe along the half boards. In the period's final seconds, Patrick Kaleta and Cody McLeod exchanged facewashes. Both players earned roughing penalties to start the 2nd period.
The Sabres started the second period with a change in net as Matt Hackett replaced Anders Lindback between the pipes, and it helped their McDavid cause as the Avalanche scored on their first two shots of the period. Both Avalanche goals developed up the gut of the Buffalo defense. First, Gabe Landeskog picked off a clearing attempt on the right wing and centered the puck to Ryan O'Reilly. O'Reilly passed the puck behind his back to a trailing Tyson Barrie who skated in tight on Hackett, double clutched and roofed the puck over his glove. The goal gave Tyson Barrie his 100th career point and O'Reilly a 7 game point streak.
On the Avs next shot of the period 3:00 later Matt Duchene received a breakout pass from Jarome Iginla at center ice and skated up the middle with speed. The Buffalo defense backed up fast and gave Duchene way too big a gap, so the Avs' centerman ripped a wrist shot for the top shelf and beat Hackett clean. That folks is a perfect example of what a highly talented player will do to a bad team. The Sabres defense gave Duchene too much room to respect his wheels, so Duchene burned them with a shot.
The Avalanche only fired 3 shots on net (they had 11 total shots attempted) their two goals and another chance for Joey Hishon midway through the period. 13:00 into the period Gabe Landeskog took a penalty for charging when he hit Grigorenko from behind while he was still tied up with Jan Hejda. The Sabres' league worst power play was ineffective and the rest of the period ticked by without anything newsworthy scoring opportunities. The Avalanche played fancy hockey, overpassing constantly as they tried to make the highlight reel against this bottom feeder team, but it resulted in a lot of offensive zone turnovers and missed opportunities. At one point in the period Dennis Everberg took a shoulder up high from Zach Bogosian. He appeared to be ok but would not return to the game in the third period.
With Dennis Everberg out of the game Joey Hishon was promoted to a line with Cliche and McLeod, while Roy double shifted a number of forwards with the remaining two 4th liners. This battle of bad NHL defenses quickly devolved into a scoring fest in the third period, with Buffalo lighting the lamp first, ending Semyon Varlamov's shutout bid. Andrej Meszaros got the puck for the Sabres on the left side point, faked a slapshot then skated further down the left wing. Varlamov uncharacteristically overcommitted by a mile and went sliding out of his net so Meszaros fired the puck into the empty net. Avs 4 - Sabres 1
The Avalanche struck back just under two minutes later, when a centering pass to Jarome Iginla skipped over the forward's stick and up to the point where Brad Stuart fired a quick hard slapshot on net halfway up the near-post and past Hackett.
When two bad defenses meet, chaos is sure to follow, and it wasn't long before the Sabres found twine again. Barrie, Guenin, and Tanguay all failed to get the puck out of the Avalanche zone on consecutive opportunities. Meszaros was the beneficiary of the last Tanguay turnover and fired a slapshot through traffic from the left point. The shot beat Varlamov and just as fast as the Avalanche regained their 4 goal lead, they lost it again.
The Avalanche didn't bring their A-game in the third period with a lead and it showed as the period progressed, with the Sabres consistently outshooting and outworking the Avalanche. Just under halfway through the period, Nate Guenin chipped the puck around the boards to Gabriel Landeskog, who made a weak clearing attempt in his own zone and turned the puck over to Zac Dalpe. Dalpe centered the puck to Marcus Foligno who found Rasmus Ristolainen in front. Once again Varlamov overcommitted and left his crease sprawling forward with his legs splayed out to the sides. Ristolainen walked around him with ease and brought the Sabres within 2.
Poor defense and puck support forced Varlamov to make a number of quality saves throughout the remainder of the game, but the Avs' netminder did well after giving up a pair of suspect goals earlier in the period. The Avalanche did earn a power play late in the third period, but didn't generate much on the opportunity and spent the final 40 seconds pinned in their own zone. With over a minute left to play the Sabres pulled their goalie for a 6-on-5 attack. Matt Duchene nearly scored his second goal of the night, but hit the right post. Ryan O'Reilly and Cody McLeod also had chances at the empty net, but both forwards missed wide.
MHH Three Stars of the Game:
(We agree with Rick Sadowski on this one)
1. Matt Duchene - 1G 2A and a number of other quality chances. Plus a post with the net empty.
2. Jarome Iginla - 3A moved Iggy up another spot on the all-time scorers list
3. Andrej Meszaros - 2G and some hypnosis/voodoo to make Varlamov spontaneously abandon his net.
Next Up: The Avalanche have a rematch against the Edmonton Oilers Monday night at the Pepsi Center. Puck drops at 9:00 PM EST, 7:00 PM MST