NEW YORK – Patrick Kaleta’s hard work on his shot is paying off. His lavish celebrations are getting better, too.
Known more for his grit than his offensive touch, Kaleta scored twice, including the tiebreaking goal in the second period, and the Buffalo Sabres shook off an uncharacteristic rough beginning by Ryan Miller in a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
Taking a page from his neighbour, Buffalo Bills linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who caught Kaleta’s eye when he put on a show while taking the field for the season opener, Kaleta made sure he enjoyed his first two-goal game in the NHL.
“He said, ‘Man, you’ve got to bring it,”‘ Kaleta said, recalling a conversation with Mitchell. “I just wanted to give something back to that guy. When I score a goal, I treat it like I don’t know when I’m going to score again or if it’ll ever happen again. I treat it like it’s my last goal.”
Kaleta scored from in-close in the first and then converted a short-handed breakaway to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead. He entered with 10 goals in 124 NHL games, but pushed his season total to a career-best five.
Kaleta nudged a bouncing puck past Ales Kotalik at the right point and came in alone on Henrik Lundqvist, beating him gloveside at 9:30 before the goalie could react.
“I didn’t move, either,” Kaleta said. “We talked about this all year with my game, playing a bigger role with the team and trying to contribute. I was put in that position tonight. It was a good effort by the whole team and I just got the bounces.”
Derek Roy also scored in the first to provide the support Miller needed for his 18th win. The likely No. 1 goalie for the U.S. Olympic team outduelled Lundqvist, who backstopped Sweden’s run to gold at the 2006 Olympics.
“The tournament in Vancouver will be completely different,” Miller said. “I am just taking the approach every night that I am on the right kind of path I need to be on to get to the Olympics.
“Right now I am going to keep my mind right where it needs to be, on the Buffalo Sabres’ season.”
Miller made 36 saves after a rare night off Friday, when the Sabres beat Chicago 2-1 in overtime. Patrick Lalime earned the first victory by a Buffalo goalie other than Miller, who entered with an NHL-best 1.82 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. The Sabres have won seven of nine.
“It’s always an adventure,” Miller said. “We really had to adjust and find some battle. We stepped up and did a really nice job.”
Lundqvist stopped 29 shots, but the Rangers lost for the sixth time in seven games (1-5-1). New York began a stretch of four games in six nights, all in the metropolitan area.
The Rangers have scored 13 goals in eight games since a 7-4 win over Columbus.
“Bottom line, we know we have to win,” Lundqvist said. “We work really hard, we just come up short a lot of nights.”
Short indeed, this time as in short-handed.
“You get one scored on you, and the way we are struggling to be consistent offensively, it is just a kick in the teeth,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
Miller, who seemed to struggle to pick up shots early, gave up power-play goals 1:55 apart in the first period to Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik as the Rangers grabbed a 2-1 lead.
Callahan, who netted the winner in New York’s 2-1 victory at Buffalo one week earlier, one-timed a shot off a pass from Gaborik at 10:22.
Gaborik then found skating room while the Rangers enjoyed a 4-on-3 advantage and scored his NHL-leading 22nd. Gaborik moved into the left circle and snapped in a shot with 7:43 left.
“It’s one where I want to at least get a piece of it and knock it down,” Miller said. “He made a nice shot, give him credit.”
Gaborik had a scare just over a minute later when Sabres forward Derek Roy was shoved into him. Gaborik received treatment near his shoulder and neck on the bench and returned during the period.
The Sabres closed the period as they started, with a goal. Jochen Hecht got to a rebound in the crease and slid a pass behind him to Kaleta, who scored the tying goal into the open right side at 14:28 as Lundqvist dived.
“You don’t get a lot of pretty ones, but we were there to stuff a couple home,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Roy’s seventh gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead 6:25 in.
NOTES: The Rangers recalled G Chad Johnson from Hartford (AHL) to back up Lundqvist, and sent down Matt Zaba. … Kaleta has 63 penalty minutes in 27 games this season and 214 in his career. His short-handed goal was the first scored by Buffalo and the second allowed by New York.