This was classic Steve Ott.
An early goal, an assist on Thomas Vanek’s buzzer-beating tying tally and a complete third-period agitation that helped turn around a game going nowhere. It made for a full night for Buffalo’s pesty winger in the Sabres’ 5-4 shootout win Thursday over Montreal.
Ott averaged 16 goals a season the last four years for the Dallas Stars but had not scored here since notching the season’s first goal Jan. 20 against Philadelphia. No. 2 came Thursday at 4:26 of the first period after a neat feed from Jochen Hecht.
Ott’s biggest contribution, however, was taking a couple of punches from Montreal’s Ryan White at 7:32 of the third period. The Habs were holding a comfortable 4-2 lead and the Sabres were doing little but agitating their fans.
After a brief collision with Ott, White wanted retribution as the pair skated near the Buffalo bench. White dropped the gloves and starting punching. Ott simply dropped.
No penalty on Ott, four minutes for roughing on White. Just 25 seconds later, Thomas Vanek had a power-play goal and the Sabres were back in business.
“I try to be physical. Obviously he thought I wanted to engage or something,” Ott said. “We got a lucky couple power plays and the power play went to work right away which was awesome. If I’m helping contribute any way to help this team win, that’s what I’m here for. We all have roles. We all have jobs to do. We did our jobs tonight.”
“Obviously it was just a selfish play,” White admitted. “I thought he went kind of low on me and that’s what he does. He’s a good player at that, he’s smart at what he does out there. I just kind of reacted the wrong way.”
Ott said he was taken by surprise but didn’t know what White’s motivation was.
“I don’t really care and I don’t know,” he said. “Obviously when you get jumped, anybody is kind of shocked. It’s hockey. We’re battling in the third period and I thought the refs made a great call there.”
“We know that’s what he’s good at doing,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “That did give us some momentum and got us a goal. ... He got a big goal for us, drew four minutes. It was a big effort.”
Marcus Foligno did most of the dirty work on Vanek’s tying goal, coming out of the corner and jamming the puck to the net. Ott and Tyler Ennis touched the puck before Vanek so they got assists.
Foligno and Ruff both said the goal was oddly reminiscent of Buffalo’s tying goal in the final 70 seconds of an overtime win here last April against Toronto, one finally poked home by Jordan Leopold much the same way Vanek pushed the puck in Thursday.
Foligno never saw that one, however, as Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek had a knee on his head and pinned him to the ice.
“It was a similar play but my face wasn’t getting pounded this time,” said a smiling Foligno. “It was a desperation play when you drive to the net and throw pucks to the paint. ... We had guys keep whacking at it to take [goaltender Peter Budaj’s] vision away so that was really good.”
The return of Christian Ehrhoff from a one-game absence prompted the Sabres to shuffle their defense corps. Ehrhoff missed Tuesday’s game in Ottawa with an undisclosed muscle strain but was fine Thursday. Buffalo’s ice time leader was averaging 23:54 entering the game and played 27:40 Thursday. That was his second-highest total of the season.
“I was well prepared for this season,” Ehrhoff said. “I got a lot of ice time in Germany [during the lockout] and for me, this feels like the middle of the season. I just had to make some adjustments when I came back for the smaller ice surface.”
Adam Pardy was a healthy scratch on defense even though he was relatively solid playing with Tyler Myers in his debut with the Sabres on Tuesday. Andrej Sekera and Robyn Regehr, both nursing ankle injuries, took the morning skate fully and Ruff said it’s possible they could play this weekend.
The Sabres have canceled their practice here today and will try to fly to New York to get ahead of the winter storm expected to pummel the East. They have instead scheduled practice in Nassau Coliseum. The team had hoped to fly out immediately after Thursday’s game but could not get a plane.