It was a good night for the Sabres at First Niagara Center. Especially for goalie Chad Johnson. The journeyman made 44 saves to shutout the Ducks in a 3-0 Buffalo win.
That allowed the Sabres to bounce back from 2-0 shutout loss to the Devils. They’ve won three of four. In each game, a Buffalo netminder has allowed two goals-or-less. Johnson was also splendid in stifling the Red Wings in a 2-1 come from behind win at Detroit.
”Usually when you start thinking about it is when something bad happens or it goes in,” Johnson said regarding his fourth career shutout and first since May 21, 2014 when he was a member of the Bruins. ”For me it was just next shot and trying to get to the end.”
Johnson’s 44 saves were a Sabres’ franchise record for saves in a shutout during regulation. That included stopping all 19 shots he saw in a busy third period.
”I can think of six times in the first and second periods where they had a good look at him from a good shooting spot with some good player shooting the puck and never looked like it was going to get by him,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. ”I’m glad we buckled down and got the shutout for him.”
”We’re playing a lot better defensively in front of the crease and boxing guys out than we did at the beginning of the year and you see the results,” Johnson added on his teammates who he credited.
Following a scoreless first, rookie Jack Eichel set up Evander Kane for the game’s opening goal. Both entered in slumps. Eichel without a point in five straight while Kane was scoreless in six. But on a good play started by Eichel’s strong skating and puck possession, he got the puck back from fellow rookie Sam Reinhart and took a wrist shot from the left point that Kane was able to redirect past Anaheim starter John Gibson at 2:36 of the second.
With Johnson repelling all 11 shots in the stanza, Buffalo was able to increase the lead to two thanks to a Jake McCabe bomb from long distance. After some strong work behind the net from Nicolas Deslauriers, Cal O’Reilly came out and set up an open McCabe for a one-timer that beat Gibson making it 2-zip at 13:35.
To help Johnson record the shutout, the Sabres killed off two penalties. One spanned the second and third while the other came just 3:08 into the final period with Josh Gorges in the box for tripping. The Ducks had some good looks but were unable to bury them against the stingy Johnson. That led to criticism from perturbed coach Bruce Boudreau who was behind the Anaheim bench for his 300th game.
”Quite frankly, when your best players aren’t your best players you’re not going to win the game,” he said which was in clear reference to stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both of who have struggled with Getzlaf in particular mystifying. He entered with only one goal. ”And that’s the bottom line. And on a too consistent basis, our best players aren’t our best players.”
The Ducks captain Getzlaf was also very vocal afterwards about the scoring issues for the league’s worst ranked offense. They only have 58 goals in their first 30 games.
”We don’t have enough hunger, we don’t have enough drive,” he admitted. “Everything I think right now it feels like we’re almost there. It was almost a nice play, it was almost, and in this league that’s not good enough.”
Jamie McGinn closed the scoring when he was able to get to a fanned shot of teammate Rasmus Ristolainen and beat Gibson in front with 6:10 remaining in the contest. For Ristolainen, that was his 17th assist. The third-year defenseman is tied with Ryan O’Reilly for the team lead in helpers. He’s having an All-Star year with 24 points. Nineteen have come in the last 20 games making him the first Buffalo defenseman since Garry Galley to accomplish that. Only 21, the former 2013 first round pick (8th overall) is realizing his potential.
That rapid development along with defensive improvement has the Sabres two games under .500. They improved to 14-16-3 with 31 points. That’s still seventh best in a competitive Atlantic Division. However, six total points separates wild card leader Ottawa (fourth) from them with Florida (5-1 winners at New Jersey) and Tampa Bay sandwiched in between. Real progress for a rebuilding team.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Cal O’Reilly, Sabres (assist was his first point in NHL since ’11-12 when he had a helper in 6 games with the Pens)
2nd Star-Evander Kane, Sabres (1st point/goal in seven-game-winner, 5 SOG, 8 attempts, 6 hits, +1 in 24 shifts-19:09)
1st Star-Chad Johnson, Sabres (44 saves for 4th career shutout)
”A pretty special moment, especially being on a team with my brother. ”For a while I wasn’t sure if I’d ever play in the NHL again. The Sabres organization gave me a chance and it’s pretty special.”-Cal O’Reilly on his assist while playing with younger brother Ryan.