Sabres finally find their heart at home to end ugly streaks

Linus and the Peanuts Gang celebrate a thorough pumping of  the hapless Flyers. On a related note, the entire Flyers management  and coaching staff was fired and Carter Hart and Brian Elliott were taken to the middle of those steps where the filmed the

Linus and the Peanuts Gang celebrate a thorough pumping of the hapless Flyers. On a related note, the entire Flyers management and coaching staff was fired and Carter Hart and Brian Elliott were taken to the middle of those steps where the filmed the “Rocky” jogging scene, and publicly shot.

 Buffalo News

Ranch goes with chicken wings, pigs do fly, Brett Hull’s goal really doesn’t count.

And the Buffalo Sabres can actually win a hockey game.

Seriously. It happened Wednesday night in KeyBank Center. I realise this wasn’t momentous enough for thousands of you to someday claim you were there, so you’ll have to take this corner’s word for it.

The 18-game winless streak – the longest in the NHL in the post-2005 shootout era – is over. The 11-game home winless streak is also history, one shy of equalling the franchise record.

Give the Sabres full marks for their 6-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, a victory that essentially was three games in the making after the Sabres frittered away third-period leads against the Flyers here Monday and Saturday in Boston.

Things have been particularly egregious at home, where the Sabres were 2-11-3 and had not won since Jan. 30. They were last in the NHL at 1.63 goals per game at home and a shocking 0.88 per game at 5 on 5. Patently absurd.

Frankly, it’s been a good thing for this team there have been no fans around. I can hear the booing. But maybe they’ve missed the motivation. There’s just nothing in the way of atmosphere without the masses.

Even if only a few hundred show up Saturday night when the gates are finally opened for the second game of the series against the New York Rangers, it will be a good thing. There were 2,100 in the house Saturday in Boston and I can vouch that the place was rocking late in the third period when the Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up to Boston” reverberated through TD Garden.

“It was great. It felt like kind of old times, felt like more normal, simpler times,” winger Kyle Okposo said earlier in the day. “I guess you really don’t know what you have ’til it’s gone. That’s something that you know, as hockey players, that you kind of take for granted. As entertainers, doing the things that we do in our profession, you take it for granted that you’re gonna have that energy, you’re gonna have those people in the seats.”

“A lot of emotions in that building,” added interim coach Don Granato.

The Sabres would have heard a lot of cheers if folks were there Wednesday night. They deserved some for once. When the fans finally come back, you have to hope they’ll see more of the hockey that’s been on display the last three games.

“I think tonight was the most consistent for sure,” said Sam Reinhart. “We were able to weather a storm early in the second (when Philadelphia got the first 11 shots on goal). The penalty kill did a good job. So it was a good process.”

“Guys have been positive,” added defenceman Brandon Montour. “The guys have tried to pick each other up after every game, and we’re doing a great job of that. Tonight just kind of was a full 60 minutes, where everybody was moving, everybody was feeling good.”

There were no panic attacks in this one for the Sabres. They were by far the better team for about 50 of the 60 minutes. And sometimes you need some luck, too. The Sabres got some right off the opening faceoff as just 11 seconds into the game, Sean Couturier burned Linus Ullmark with a backhand.

Doink.

Flat off the goalpost and back out. Given the way Monday’s game ended, imagine the boomerang effect on both teams if the Flyers had taken a lead in that kind of short order. Instead, the first period proceeded much like the opening 40 minutes did Monday. The Sabres played with pace and purpose, the Flyers were dishevelled and disjointed.

Reinhart’s goal that opened the scoring came off great work by Okposo. Rochester Amerks captain Steven Fogarty chipped in his first NHL goal and had a sublime assist to Casey Mittelstadt. Jacob Bryson and Rasmus Ristolainen each rang up two assists and a plus-4 rating. Montour scored two short-handed goals in a 37-second span late in the third period.

Granato’s first win as an NHL head coach showcased the way he wants them to play with pace. They’re becoming a North-South team again. Reinhart made a point of noting the free-skating style the team has been given the keys to since Ralph Krueger left. It makes a difference.

“I think that right now, the way that he wants us to play is a lot of close support, a lot of easy passes to each other,” said Okposo. “And when you do that, you start to get a lot of good puck touches, and then you start to feel good.”

Just give the fans a good effort. Score some goals. Make some plays. It’s not too much to ask. And it was time to get rid of this streak, which was starting to become a huge story across North America and could have become a huge organisational albatross if it got into the 20s, something no NHL team had endured since 1993.

“There’s no question that it is important to put the streak behind so everybody can move on,” Granato admitted. “But we absolutely had to block it out. … We had to control what we can truly control and focus on making this group better and getting better as a team. And I feel we are. We’re in a much better place, getting better. And we have to keep that focus.”

Of course, this was only one win and just the seventh of the season. Here’s hoping the diehards who decide to come in April get a few rewards and are able to make some noise.