The problem with being a team that goads but declines to go is that when you're truly in need of a fight the opposition is too wary to oblige.
Andrew Peters strived to do what needed to be done Tuesday night with the Buffalo Sabres skating through the first period as if playing a mean-nothing game in Roberval, Quebec. Peters lined up against Boston's Shawn Thornton, another veteran with a fighter's background, for a faceoff in the neutral zone. Peters shoved once. He shoved twice. And all he got for his aggression was a look at Thornton's back, a slight that led to Peters soon taking a slashing penalty out of a stymied fighter's frustration.
This is all Patrick Kaleta's fault. Well, maybe not all his fault. Something has to account for the listlessness the Sabres brought to the rink at the outset and that something must have been Tim Connolly gracing the club with his presence at the morning skate. Like that wasn't enough to throw everyone temporarily out of synch? The season-long scratch made a public HSBC Arena appearance for the first time since the morning of the opener and reported that one of his hairline vertebrae fractures is 100 percent, the other 90 percent. What does that mean, look for him in the lineup around Christmas? Just guessing.
Anyway, Peters was looking to shake his teammates out of a funk that had resulted in the Bruins leading 14-3 on the shot clock and 1-0 on the scoreboard. And what reason could there be for Thornton ignoring the challenge other than the Kaleta-cultivated reputation the Sabres have for suckering the unsuspecting into glove-dropping acts of regret? Just because Kaleta finally shed the mitts himself last game in Atlanta doesn't mean all has been forgiven or forgotten. He might have to go a couple of more times so Peters can find a dance partner when the Sabres need him to tango, as they did early on this night.
With Peters negated by Thornton's discipline the Sabres needed to look elsewhere for their spark. A tip of the hat goes, yet again, to goaltender Ryan Miller, who continues to perform at a breathtakingly high level.
There's no way the Sabres should have required Miller heroics to steal away with a 3-2 shootout victory over a Boston team playing its second overtime game in 24 hours. But that's the way it came down.
How dependent was Buffalo on its league-leading goaltender? Let us count the saves. Sixteen in the first period and another 10 in the second before his teammates finally concluded his effort was too strong to waste. This makes Miller 4-0 on the season, with six goals allowed on 105 shots, good for a .942 save percentage. It appears he was serious about all that title talk when he signed the new contract. Just ask Marco Sturm, the Boston winger who twice thought he had the game put away only to have Miller thwart him with dazzling saves.
The Sabres see the Bruins only six times this year instead of the eight of past seasons. It's a concession, to paraphrase Commissioner Gary Bettman, made to the small but vocal group of fans who wanted a chance to see more of the league's teams. Alas, a visit by the Vancouver Canucks translates into one less visit by Boston right wing Phil Kessel, who looks to have come of age at 21.
Kessel's career began with high expectations and a bout with testicular cancer. He struggled as a rookie, producing 11 goals, and followed up with a lukewarm 19 last year. But he's tearing through the early portion of this year's schedule, scoring his sixth goal Tuesday night during a Boston power play and generally causing the Sabres fits.
But the Sabres still had some spunk in them, even if it was their goaltender who had to force the fight.