TORONTO — There are times when it seems like Steve Ott gets too much credit. His stats are far from eye-popping on a team that’s struggled for much of the year.
Ott deserved any and all accolades sent his way Friday night.
Buffalo’s captain steered the Sabres back on course just when it seemed like they were going to crash on the shores of Lake Ontario. He jacked up the flat team’s emotions at the start of the third period and capped it by scoring the tying goal with 24.1 seconds left. It got the Sabres a point for their 4-3 shootout loss to Toronto.
“Steve Ott really grabbed this team in the third period and really led them and willed them to get that tying goal and fight back,” coach Ted Nolan said in Air Canada Centre. “If he’s going to lead the team the way he has been, it’s going to be leading it through his determination and his grit. He plays all the time. Some of the young players on this team, if they could learn something from one of our players they can learn that from Steve Ott.”
The Maple Leafs stunned the Sabres in the second period by erasing a two-goal deficit with three straight. Just 1:24 into the third period, Ott and Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier crashed into each other while sliding toward a loose puck. Bernier stayed in the game after a visit from the athletic trainer.
“I think I got hit harder than he was, but I think I’m used to banging my noggin that often so I didn’t really feel it,” Ott said.
Though the collision was unintentional, the Leafs took offense. They jawed and jabbed with Ott for the rest of the night, and the Sabres joined in to get re-engaged.
“Those are the type of games I love to play,” Ott said. “It was good to see our team battle back, though. The relentlessness of our team that found a way to come back and tie it up, that’s the stuff that we need.”
Ott played 8:25 in the third period and overtime after skating 10:32 through the first two periods. Along the way, he popped in his sixth goal and 10th point in 38th game. He has two goals and three points in the season’s four games against Toronto.
“You’ve got to find emotion in the game,” he said. “All these games, especially division rival kind of stuff like this, they’re going to be like that every single game the rest of the way, I’m sure for years after I’m done and retired.”
The Sabres had a full roster this time, but the guys who were sick earlier in the week were still missing.
Nolan assembled a “flu line” with Ville Leino, Marcus Foligno and Linus Omark, three of the four skaters who missed Monday’s 16-player victory over Phoenix. Leino and Foligno each took one shot while Omark had none.
“We didn’t have everybody,” Nolan said. “You give them a little bit of benefit of the doubt with the flu being so bad and never had practice the last three days or whatever, but you’ve still got to compete a little bit more.”
Omark’s first few days with the Sabres couldn’t have been much worse. The winger, acquired from Edmonton last week, took a penalty in his debut Saturday in Boston and missed a scoring chance. He missed his first chance to redeem himself, sitting home Monday.
“I had a bad start,” he conceded. “Hopefully, I can stay healthy now and go from here.”
Omark, by the way, said his first name is pronounced “Lean-us.”
The buzzword of Lindy Ruff’s tenure was “system.” The former Buffalo coach talked daily about he team’s need to adhere to the system to have success.
Things have changed.
“It doesn’t matter what system you have really, I don’t really think,” Nolan said. “It’s commitment and getting the players to play with a certain amount of determination, a little bit of grit and wanting to play. If you don’t do it, you don’t get a chance to play.”
Randy Carlyle might have to stop going out to eat if the Leafs keep sliding. The coach, whose team had won just four of its previous 16 games, thought he was safe dining at a restaurant 140 miles north of Toronto during the Christmas break.
“A fan comes over and says, ‘Hey Carlyle, you better get the Leafs going,’ ” Carlyle said. “I guess I didn’t get away from it.”