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To hear Steve Ott describe his first goal for the Sabres and their first goal of the season, you would have thought it was an ordinary play in a forgettable game in January. On the surface, it wasn't anything special. He one-timed Jason Pominville's perfect pass into the high slot and scored on the power play.

Nice pass, nice shot.

Ott was tossing and turning in bed Saturday night because he was so anxious to play his first game for the Sabres after being acquired for Derek Roy. Ott admitted worrying about the game. He arrived at First Niagara Center more than three hours before faceoff. He gave the Sabres an early lead against a good team in Philadelphia.

Plus, it was his mother's birthday.

So, yes, he knew the goal was important on various levels. For the most part, however, he was oblivious to its significance on the grand scale. Ott is more than a third-line winger on this team no matter what the depth chart shows. He's the type of player the Sabres have lacked, the kind who can change their chemistry and collective heartbeat.

Sometimes, that's all it takes for a team to reach its potential. Talent hasn't been the Sabres' biggest issue in recent years. Their persistent problem has been players underachieving. The issue revolved mostly around a lack of effort, an overall reluctance to pay the fare. Too many times, they were collecting paychecks without earning them.

“He's a guy that you absolutely despise playing against,” said winger Patrick Kaleta, who could have been describing himself. “When you look at the lineup of the other team, you go right to his name and say, 'This could be a long night. I don't know if I'm up for this.' He's a role model for me. A lot of guys look up to him and follow his lead.”

Let's not get carried away. We're talking about Steve Ott, not Steve Yzerman. The Sabres beat the Flyers with a score that was more convincing than their overall performance. It was a 2-2 game before Buffalo finished by scoring three goals in the final 5:03 and left for Toronto with a 5-2 victory.

Kaleta was right. There was no mistaking the impact Ott made Sunday.

His goal gave the Sabres an early lead, but it meant much more. He can relax with the first one out of the way. He helped justify Darcy Regier's reason for acquiring him. He gave his team, and himself, a boost of confidence. He helped stiffen their backbone. He also helped people forget about Roy.

“Team-wise, it felt so good to have all of us up and cheering right away,” Ott said. “I want to be competitive every single night. I hold myself accountable. I want to be there and help the team out. It's real easy to play in the East when you have a full building and screaming fans like this. It's instant energy.

“It felt great. Pommer set the table. I was just trying to get in on net, and it went in. You always worry about how long it's going to take to get the first one. To get that monkey off your back, it felt pretty good.”

Ott is a fresh face and welcomed voice in the dressing room, a new toy that worked as advertised. His willingness to punish opponents at full speed with Kaleta-like indifference toward his own body will endear him to long-suffering fans. He adds bite to a team that had been pushed around far too often.

If anything, he's the antithesis of Roy.

Roy had several good years in Buffalo. His productivity should not be dismissed, but he needed a change in scenery. That alone is hardly a crime. Any sport can grow stale for players who have been in one place for too long. For years, there were rumblings about him being a selfish player and lousy teammate. He feuded with Lindy Ruff.

Regier acquired Ott for his character and leadership, for the positive effect he had on his teammates. The Stars received the better player based on talent alone, but the Sabres believe they added the better player for them. Unlike Roy, he will show up and provide a full effort on most nights.

His passion was evident after the game. He sounded like he was ready to drive to Toronto and play a doubleheader Sunday night rather than wait to play the Leafs tonight. He showered rookie linemate Mikhail Grigorenko with praise after an uneventful NHL debut, suggesting he was riding the young center's coattails.

“How easy is it to grab energy from a full house of anxious hockey people?” Ott said. “I felt like a rookie this morning. I was up at 6 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock. I was nervous. Nervous energy is a good thing. You want to prove yourself. It felt so good to put that Buffalo Sabres jersey on and earn that jersey.”

Keyword: Earn.

Yeah, he gets it.

He also knew what do with the puck in his wheelhouse Sunday. Pominville gave him a perfect pass before he rifled a shot past Ilya Bryzgalov to give the Sabres the lead on the power play. Ott killed penalties and played with boundless energy. He spent the afternoon banging bodies and maximizing his 15 minutes, 16 seconds of ice time.

OK, so he was whistled for embellishment, prompting someone to suggest the referee penalized No. 9 for diving out of habit. Ott will take his share of penalties, but the Sabres would gladly trade two minutes in the box for 15 minutes of oomph. If his aggression also comes with a little scoring punch, he makes the Sabres that much better.

Ruff could sense a difference in their overall attitude Sunday. Drew Stafford made it clear when he stood up for Tyler Ennis and picked a fight with Scott Hartnell, who was a general nuisance all afternoon. For now, anyway, it appears they're going to be a tougher team to play against. In that respect, Ott has quickly come to personify his new team.

One player, one goal, can make a world of difference.



email: bgleason@buffnews.com