Ryan Miller made 29 saves and Maxim Afinogenov had a goal and an assist to give the Sabres a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Monday, spoiling Nolan’s first appearance in Buffalo since leaving the organization after rejecting a one-year contract offer following the 1996-97 season.
Now the Islanders’ coach, Nolan guided the Sabres for two years, and was the NHL’s coach of the year in 1997.
“It’s always nice to come back here,” Nolan said. “Buffalo’s always been a special place to me and I’ll always remember those two years.”
Nearly a decade after he left, Nolan remains one of the most beloved coaches in Sabres history. One fan in the capacity crowd held a sign that said, “We wish you well Teddy … just not tonight.”
Nolan is one of only two Sabres’ coaches to win the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s top coach. Current coach Lindy Ruff won it last summer.
“When they’re chanting ‘Teddy’ in the hotel hallways at 4:30 in the morning, you have to figure he was pretty popular,” New York goalie Rick DiPietro said.
Ruff shrugged off the return.
“We are so far removed,” he said. “We didn’t talk about it.”
His team, meanwhile, is back on track after losing consecutive games for the first time earlier this month. Buffalo has now won five of its last six games, with the loss coming in overtime against St. Louis.
“We’ve got a little roll going,” said Paul Gaustad, who opened the scoring with a power-play goal eight minutes into the first period. “We’re eliminating the turnovers and the chances that we’re giving the other team.”
Jochen Hecht also scored for the Sabres, who beat the Islanders for the sixth consecutive time.
Jason Blake scored for the Islanders in the third period, snapping the team’s 186:31 scoreless streak, a new team record. New York has lost three straight, the first two by shutouts.
“Some nights the puck doesn’t go in, and other nights it will,” Islanders captain Alexei Yashin said. “We have to play consistently and support each other.”
The Islanders have dropped four of their last six.
“We’re going through a tough thing right now,” Yashin said.
The same can’t be said of the Sabres, who finished their four-game homestand with four victories by a combined score of 17-6.
“We wanted to have a good homestand here because every game is important,” Miller said. “We wanted to make a statement, and we did a good job.”
Miller won his fourth straight start, allowing six goals in those games. He made several big stops in the first period, including a diving block of Richard Park’s attempt from the left circle after Arron Asham rang a slap shot off the crossbar. He also robbed Randy Robitaille with a kick save on a point-blank attempt in the third, and made consecutive stops late on Chris Campoli and Blake from in close.
“Ryan gives us a chance to win every night,” Gaustad said. “He’s solid, and one of those goaltenders who is always in the right place at the right time.”
The Sabres pushed their lead to 2-0 on Afinogenov’s 18th of the year at 11:27 of the second. On a 2-on-1, Afinogenov made a quick stop with the puck in the right circle before unleashing a wrist shot.
Blake spoiled Miller’s shutout bid with his team-leading 22nd goal at 8:19 of the third. Cutting in from the left circle, Blake slid the puck past Miller to snap New York’s record goal-scoring slump.
Hecht capped the scoring on an empty-net goal with 16 seconds remaining.
DiPietro was making his 11th consecutive start, and finished with 31 saves.
Notes: The Islanders began a stretch in which they will play five of six on the road. … Afinogenov has picked up two points in each of the last two games. … Former Sabres forward Miroslav Satan was booed every time he touched the puck. … The Islanders previous scoreless streak was 178:55 set over four games from Dec. 28, 1998 – Jan. 2, 1999.