There are certain benchmarks that separate goaltenders. For instance, a goalie with a 2.50 goals-against average and .910 save percentage is pretty good. Guys who deliver a 2.00 and .925 are elite.
So what would you call goalies who have a 1.54 goals-against average and .941 save percentage?
The Buffalo Sabres’ opponents.
The Sabres’ offensive ineptitude has turned nearly every goaltender into a star for a day. Buffalo scored just once again Saturday, making Calgary and goalie Karri Ramo (26 saves) into winners. The Flames left town with a 2-1 overtime victory in scarcely populated First Niagara Center.
“We haven’t been able to finish all year,” Sabres forward Brian Flynn said. “It’s no secret.”
Indeed, the Sabres’ woes have been visible from the outset. They totaled two goals in the opening three games. It’s been just as bad lately as Buffalo has 14 goals in the last 11 outings.
Add it all up and the Sabres have scored one goal or none in 17 of their 33 games, making more than half their appearances very easy for opponents and goal-light operators.
“We just have to get on the score sheet a little more and things will change in the win column,” said defenseman Brayden McNabb, whose club fell to 7-23-3.
The lack of firepower allowed the Sabres and Flames to engage in a game for the ages – the dark ages. It ended with a bright spot for Calgary.
Matt Stajan scored with 42 seconds gone in overtime, putting a shot past Jhonas Enroth that the netminder usually has little trouble handling.
“I just missed the shot, so that’s not good,” said Enroth, who finished with 24 stops. “I felt pretty bad that I came away with an OK game here.”
OK obviously won’t cut it when the offense leaves no room for error. When a team scores just once, every mistake gets magnified and hurts more than it should.
“You can’t allow yourself to frustrated and get away from what you’re doing well,” said Sabres goal-scorer Matt Moulson. “Right now we’re getting guys to the net. That was an emphasis for us. We’ve just got to put them in the back.”
The teams were infinitely better at finding the penalty box than the back of the net during the first two periods. They combined for no goals and 11 minor penalties before an announced crowd of 18,368, which was far less in actual ticket-using patrons.
“I’d rather only talk about the third period,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. “The first 40, I don’t know how it was from the press box or the stands, but from the bench ugly is a gentle word.”
Streaking Sabres rookie Zemgus Girgensons did most of the work to put Buffalo up, 1-0, with 14:20 left in regulation. He skated down the right side and put a pass through the crease to a wide-open Moulson. Girgensons has found the score sheet in five of the last seven games.
The lead was short-lived. Old friends Paul Byron and Chris Butler combined to pull Calgary into a 1-1 tie just 2:39 later, with Byron burying Butler’s pass.
“Once we got that lead we gave up a couple four-on-twos in a row,” Flynn said. “That can’t happen, especially when we’re only scoring a goal or two.”
They can’t take five penalties in the opening 32 minutes, either.
“We’ve got to stay out of the box if you’re not scoring,” said Nolan, who noted that penalty killers like Steve Ott got overworked with 25:15 of ice time.
Fatigued players aren’t going to score, but they’re going to make opposing goaltenders looking amazing. The Sabres have taken 104 shots during the last three games, and goalies have stopped 101.
“We’re creating chances to score,” McNabb said. “They’re going to start going in before long.”