BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ales Kotalik has become so successful in scoring shootout goals that the Buffalo Sabres forward is growing tired talking about them.
“You got something different, right?” Kotalik said, wanting to change the subject. What mattered more is that he contributed in helping the Sabres open this season by accomplishing something they struggled with all last year – winning a close game.
Kotalik and Drew Stafford scored on consecutive shootout chances in a 2-1 win on Friday night that spoiled the Montreal Canadiens’ start to their 100th season. Ryan Miller made 27 saves after allowing Robert Lang to open the scoring on the Canadiens’ first shot on net.
Add it up and the Sabres began easing the memories of the dreadful collapses and 14-18 record in one-goal games that contributed to costing the team a playoff berth last year.
“It’s a good step and a good statement for us,” Kotalik said. “If we won more of the shootouts last year than we did we might have found ourselves in the playoffs.”
Kotalik scored on what’s become his patented move. Driving in on goalie Carey Price, Kotalik faked a shot from 10 feet out and then drove to the left to backhand a shot behind the goalie. It was his 13th goal in 26 career shootout chances. Stafford scored in similar fashion, but actually roofed his shot just inside the crossbar.
At the other end, Miller stopped Lang on Montreal’s initial shootout chance and the game ended when Saku Koivu had the puck roll of his stick.
Thomas Vanek scored the lone goal in regulation as Buffalo opened the season with a win for the third time in four years, and snapped a three-game losing streak against their Northeast rivals.
The Canadiens managed a point, but lacked finish for a team that won the Eastern Conference regular-season title last year. And so much for opening their centennial season with a victory.
“Anniversary or not, every season you try to get off to a good start,” Lang said. “Good starts come in handy around Christmas and at the end of the year. You never know when you’ll need them.”
At least they earned a point, which is something that didn’t happen much in the Canadiens’ inaugural campaign in 1909-10, when they lost their first four games and finished 2-10.
Coach Guy Carbonneau wasn’t too upset.
“We lost in a shootout. I can’t say I’m unhappy about the game,” he said.
Carbonneau also wasn’t upset after the Canadiens had a goal waved off with 4:40 remaining, when Andrei Markov banked his point shot off the right post following a faceoff deep in the Sabres end. Referee Ian Walsh disallowed the goal by calling an interference penalty on Canadiens forward Guillaume Latendresse, who upended a Buffalo player attempting to race out to the point.
“It was a penalty,” he said. “There’s nothing to say about it.”
After Lang and Vanek traded goals five minutes apart early in the first period, the game developed into a defensive battle between two highly offensive teams. Montreal scored an NHL-best 262 goals while the Sabres finished fourth with 255.
The Sabres played a patient and opportunistic style, and also got a goal-saving play from defenceman Toni Lydman midway through the second period. Miller got his blocker up to stop Roman Hamrlik’s shot from the left circle, but the puck took a strange bounce off the ice and began rolling toward the net. Lydman smartly got his stick out to poke the puck away before it crossed the goal line.
“This shows we can play one of the better teams in the East,” Vanek said. “So far so good.”
All the news wasn’t good. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff revealed that centre Tim Connolly is out indefinitely after test showed he has a hairline fracture of a vertebra.
Notes: Sabres D Teppo Numminen, who missed all but one game last season after having surgery to repair a faulty heart valve, appeared in his first game in Buffalo since May 19, 2007, when the Sabres were eliminated by Ottawa of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. The 40-year-old opened his 20th NHL season, and earned an assist on Vanek’s goal. … The Canadiens, who opened 2-10 in their inaugural season in the former National Hockey Association, dropped to 3,052-2001-838-52. … Montreal was without LW Christopher Higgins (groin) and D Francis Bouillon (knee).