Greetings from HSBC Arena as we get set for the Sabres and Caps in Buffalo's first home game since Feb. 13. A lot has changed in the hockey world since then, of course. And I'm not talking about the Sabres getting Raffi Torres today at the trade deadline (good pickup, for the record). Ryan Miller has transformed into a national icon and this game is essentially going to serve as his welcome-home party.
Plenty of applause as Miller came alone to the bench at 6:20 for his nightly pregame meditation session and when he took the ice for warmups. See some U.S. flags in fans' hands too. But the feeling is that the fans are going to lift the roof off the place during the Sabres' pregame ceremony to honor their Olympians. If Miller got a standing O last night in Pittsburgh, of all places, what is the reception going to be like at the foot of Washington Street?
As for the game, the Sabres come into it 1-5-2 in their last eight but with a chance to move back into first place in the Northeast Division with a win or overtime loss. The Caps, meanwhile, lost their last three prior to the Olympics after their 14-game winning streak ended.
Torres, by the way, is officially listed as a scratch tonight. And they just announced him as No. 14. Um, boys, that number is in the rafters (Rene Robert). Didn't think he could wear that one. We'll see. (Update: we're told the league generates a number for traded players so that won't hold. Garage league).
Pregame: Miller got a rousing 45-second standing ovation when the Olympic medalists were introduced before the game, twice acknowledging the cheers. The Sabres used the HD board to introduce Miller, Ruff and Lydman and also saluted WNYers Patrick Kane, Ryan Callahan, Brooks Orpik and bobsledder Steve Mesler. Awesome. Of course, it would have been better to do all this before the anthems and really build some momentum in the building. But MSG needs to show more law firm commercials and doesn't show the anthems. My nightly boo to them.
16:00 left: Miller has 30 saves tonight. The Caps have three or more goals in their last 21 straight games -- going 17-2-2 in that stretch.
12:00: The Sabres had nine shots on goal in the first 10 minutes. They have nine in the last 38.
9:32: Mike Green sneaks into the play to put the Caps ahead, 2-1, taking a neat pass from Tomas Fleischmann, who snuck to his right and then made a neat pass to the trailing defenseman. Green's 15th of the year.
3:25: Plenty of action as Kaleta wipes out Ovechkin at center ice, waking up the Buffalo offense to get three good chances on Theodore, who was up to the task.
It's over: A 3-1 loss as Boyd Gordon's bank shot hits the empty net with 30 seconds left. Final shots were 40-24.
15:45: Mike Knuble beats Miller on a breakaway -- but puts the puck through the crease behind the Buffalo goaltender in the first snippet of any kind of action in this period. Giveaway from Kennedy at the Caps line set it up. This game is a complete snore. Looks like a pair of teams that just went through a two-week break. Terrible.
11:43: We'll tell you when something happens. Promise. Have no idea what to say about a game where there is NOTHING happening. Bizarre. Caps, for instance, have scored at least three goals in 21 straight games. They've got nothing in 28 minutes so far.
10:50: Miller's best save of the night is on Ovechkin, who got a loose puck at the Buffalo line and pulled it around Butler to release one of his patented heavy snap shots. An alert reader points out we never mentioned the lines in the wake of MacArthur's departure and Gaustad's injury. It's been Hecht-Connolly-Pominville, Vanek-Roy-Stafford, Kaleta-Kennedy-Grier and Mair-Ellis-Montador.
8:34: Miller bettered that one by channeling Eric Fehr's one-timer from the slot into the netting and then stopping an Ovechkin wrister off the faceoff. Caps have a 7-2 edge in shots in this period.
6:15: Theodore's best save is on Mair from the slot after a nice feed from Roy.
4:37: The Caps finally take a 1-0 lead as Jeff Schultz's shot from left point beats Miller after Jason Chimera pick-pocketed Rivet behind the Buffalo net. Might have been tipped in front. Shots are 12-3 in this period for the Caps. (Update: Eric Fehr gets credit on the deflection in front of Miller.)
3:37: Big for the Sabres to get that right back as Hecht hops on a loose puck in the Caps zone and fires a quick snap shot past Theodore for his 14th. Hecht';s 400th NHL point makes it 1-1.
End-2nd: Sabres are fortunate to get out with a 1-1 tie after Washington posts a 16-4 edge in shots. It's 27-15 in the game for the Caps.
16:54: The Sabres have a two-man advantage for 11 seconds as Shoane Morrison goes off for hooking after Jeff Schultz's tripping call.
15:00: Sabres sure didn't fix the power play today. Stafford had the best chance from in tight on Jose Theodore but Miller has to make two stops on his own to keep the game scoreless with the best one coming on Brooks Laich.
13:10: Sabres have a 6-3 edge in shots.
9:33: No sign of Alexander Ovechkin yet. He's done nothing. His first burst was a few seconds ago and Tyler Myers stripped him on the rush just inside the Buffalo line. Shots are 9-3, Buffalo.
8:00: Memo to Jochen Hecht: Don't dump the puck up the middle in your own end with Ovechkin on the loose. Terrible giveaway nearly gave No. 8 a clear path to Miller.
7:00: Stafford goes for interference in the offensive zone. Pretty foolish. Do the Sabres ever start a game lately with any adrenalin surge?
3:38: Theodore's best save comes on Roy, who deked a defender and got in after a nice pass from Tallinder, who caught the Caps on a change.
3:07: Pominville goes for high sticking.
End-1st: No score and both teams have 11 shots. Miller made a pair of nice saves in the final minute, on Matt Bradley and a Boyd Gordon rebound, to keep it scoreless. A pretty blah period overall. The Caps haven't played in 2 1/2 weeks and it shows. Not much energy from them. Same for the Sabres, who played last night. Another argument against Olympic hockey: Will it take every team a week to get back into game rhythm so March doesn't look like October?