Hello again from HSBC Arena, where Maxim Afinogenov made a girl cry today. More on that in Sunday's Buffalo News.
The season starts tonight for the game's netminders. Buffalo's Patrick Lalime and Atlanta's Johan Hedberg are making their first appearances of the year. My initial thought was Hedberg has had success against the Sabres, and the stats back that up. Hedberg is 10-2-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average against the Sabres in his career.
Two quick notes from the pregame that have nothing to do with hockey:
1. Nice job by the audio crew getting Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters in the pregame skate on a regular basis.
2. Eating a pork sandwich for the second straight Saturday prior to the game. This one from the 200 Level was twice as much as the one at Jack's in Nashville last week. I couldn't wait to write "twice as much, half as good" ... but it's really very good.
OK, gotta finish. Be back in about 20 minutes for puck drop.
7:08 p.m.: Game on. Sabres starting their fourth line of Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta and Adam Mair (in place of Matt Ellis) for the third straight game.
For the record, in my Coach for a Day article in June, I said they should start that line every game. I'm not saying I had anything to do with it, I'm just saying.
7:11 p.m.: Some boos for Max the first time he touched the puck.
7:16 p.m.: First too many men on the ice penalty of the season for the Sabres with 14:35 left. Big save by Lalime on a streaking Ilya Kovalchuk.
7:18 p.m.: A lot of boos for Max the second time he touches the puck, but I'm sure he forgot them while celebrating a Thrashers power-play goal. Three quick passes, started by Afinogenov, freed Kovalchuk in the slot. Neither Lalime nor Ryan Miller nor Martin Brodeur were stopping his glove-side rifle under the cross bar with 13:13 left.
7:21 p.m.: Welcome to the 2009-10 season, Mr. Lalime. With nine minutes gone, the Thrashers have a 10-1 shot advantage.
7:23 p.m.: So after watching his team score six goals in each of the past two games, Lindy Ruff has changed his lines. They are: Jochen Hecht-Derek Roy-Drew Stafford; Tim Kennedy-Gaustad-Mike Grier; Clarke MacArthur-Tim Connolly-Jason Pominville (that's the same); and Daniel Paille-Mair-Kaleta.
7:25 p.m.: And with 10:12 left, Kovalchuk has two goals, and Atlanta has a 2-0 lead. Tyler Myers turned the puck over to Nik Antropov, who fed Bryan Little behind the net. Little sees Kovalchuk alone in the slot.
7:28 p.m.: Kovalchuk is on pace to have 12 goals this game.
7:29 p.m.: Capt. Bryon Sheriff of the U.S. Air Force is the recipient of tonight's Tickets for Troops sponsored by Chris Butler.
7:32 p.m.: Gaustad and Grier get two chances in front, forcing a hooking call on Zach Bogosian with 7:43 to go.
7:37 (coming out of the sky): Sabres have cut shot deficit to 16-10, but score is still 2-0 with 4 minutes left.
7:44 p.m.: End of period, Thrashers have 2-0 lead and 16-13 shot edge. Kovalchuk pace has slipped to six goals this game.
8:02 p.m.: As Nickelback fades from the speakers, the second period starts up. Just 41 seconds in, Steve Montador goes to the penalty box.
8:12 p.m.: Quiet second period with just one shot per team with 13:28 to go.
8:15 p.m.: Hedberg wants that one back, but the Sabres and their fans are happy. MacArthur scores his fourth of the season with an unobstructed slap shot from the top of the left circle. It went between Hedberg's pads with 13:04 left.
Just eight seconds later, Roy goes to the box for hooking.
8:18 p.m.: Power-play goal makes it 3-1 Thrash. Lalime saves a point shot, but Todd White was crossing the crease and sent home the rebound with 12:07 to go.
8:23 p.m.: Two Thrashers go to box for minor penalties, giving the Sabres a five-on-three for a full two minutes with 8:42 left following a commercial timeout. Kaleta drew the hook and the roughing calls.
8:28 p.m.: Three shots, no goals on the PP.
8:36 p.m.: With 2:22 left, it's still 3-1. Sabres have a 9-6 shot edge so far.
8:39 p.m.: Some boos as the Sabres exit the ice at the end of the period. It's 3-1 Atlanta, with the visitors holding a 23-22 shot edge.
8:57 p.m.: The Sabres are 4-0-1 after entering a third period, and the sixth one just started.
9:04 p.m.: Six minutes gone, no goals on seven shots for Sabres.
9:10 p.m.: The puck is staying in the Atlanta zone, but it's also staying out of the Atlanta net. Sabres have a 9-1 shot edge, but the score is still 3-1 with 11:34 to go.
9:12 p.m.: Kaleta just has a knack for bringing out the stupid in people. Christoph Schubert boards him with 10:10 to go, giving the Sabres the power play.
9:15 p.m.: Penalty over, no change in score.
9:22 p.m.: Nik Antropov takes cross-checking penalty, giving the Sabres another chance with 4:27 to go.
9:23 p.m.: The sellout crowd comes alive as Drew Stafford makes the most of his second whack, scoring with 3:34 left.
9:25 p.m.: Afinogenov makes all Sabres fans cry now, scoring with 3:17 left with a high-speed rush he's long been able to do. It's 4-2.
Afinogenov: "It was a big goal, not just for me but for the team, too. It’s not revenge. I just want to play my game and help the team. The team won, and that’s most important."
Lalime: "You want to win every game. That’s what we play for. Maybe it’s just a way for us to look in the mirror and say, 'We’re a good team, but we’ve got to make sure we battle every night and come out strong.' You cannot take any time off in this league. There’s so many good teams, so you’ve got to be on your game all 60 minutes."
Defenseman Toni Lydman: "We weren’t working hard enough. That’s the bottom line. We got exactly what we deserved."
Tyler Myers, beaten by Afinogenov for the clinching goal in the 4-2 final: "He put the puck around my feet, and I got caught staring at it, and I let him walk around me. He’s very skilled, very shifty with the puck, and I got caught. It’s going to happen. It’s just focusing on making sure it doesn’t happen again."
Ellis missed the game with a quadriceps contusion.