The way Ted Nolan saw it, Matt D’Agostini was operating at 90 percent since coming to the Sabres. The winger had drive, but his car was staying too clean.
“D’Agostini is getting those opportunities, but he’s missing that 10 percent extra,” Buffalo’s coach said prior to Saturday’s meeting with New Jersey. “You’ve got to go in the dirty areas. He’s had a number of outside shots, but outside shots ain’t getting in. We’ve got to get a little bit closer, get our bodies in front of the net, battle, get cross-checked.
“It’s painful sometimes to go in those areas. We’ve got to get that 10 percent extra.”
Nolan got it Saturday night. As a result, D’Agostini scored a long-awaited goal and the Sabres earned another home victory.
D’Agostini recorded his first goal in his 16th game with Buffalo, crashing the net to bury a power-play rebound with 8:11 to play. The goal broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Sabres a 2-1 victory, moving them to 6-0-1 in their last seven games in First Niagara Center.
“I just wanted to contribute and do something for the boys,” D’Agostini said. “It took awhile, but I’m happy to get that first one.”
The right winger had 43 shots since getting claimed off waivers Nov. 27. He added three more against the Devils, including his backhand winner.
“I was getting close here, getting my chances,” D’Agostini said. “As long as you’re getting the chances, sooner or later they’ll start falling for you. It’s a funny game sometimes. You’ll have 10 great chances in a row and they won’t go in, then sometimes they’ll just start falling. Hopefully, I’m on the other side.”
Steve Ott started the winning play by sprinting to the net from below the goal line. Goaltender Cory Schneider denied the first opportunity but had no chance on the rebound.
“It was just sitting right there, and I got a good backhand on it,” D’Agostini said. “Steve did a great job of creating chaos and jamming it at the net.”
There’s no doubt about that. Buffalo took a 1-0 lead in similar fashion as Matt Moulson sent home a rebound late in the second after Tyler Ennis circled the net.
Both of the Sabres’ goals came from their slumbering power play, which had been in drought since the middle of November. It was only the second time this season the Sabres scored two power-play goals in a game.
Buffalo went 5 for 61 in the previous 19 outings to fall to 11.9 percent this season.
“It came down to getting to the puck to the net on the power play,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. “The boys did a nice job.”
For the breakthrough to come against the Devils was impressive. New Jersey was third in the NHL in penalty killing at 87.1 percent.
The Devils, who lost at home Friday to Chicago, have dropped two straight after a 5-1-2 run.
“It’s one thing to lose to a team like Chicago,” Schneider said. “You just tip your cap to them and say they’re a good team. No disrespect to Buffalo. They’re playing really hard. They’ve got some guys missing. They’re standing their ground on home ice. But I think for us after losing last night, this is a game we had to find a way to win.”
Michael Ryder’s five-on-three goal with 12:14 left (a power play created by Tyler Myers’ illegal check to the head of Dainius Zubrus) was the only shot to beat Miller, who made 21 saves. His biggest was a two-on-zero against Adam Henrique late in the second to keep the game scoreless. Moulson found the net a few minutes later.
“I just want to be there to make a difference,” Miller said. “I had to come up with a few saves here and there, and that was one of them.”
The Sabres have a two-day break before hosting Nathan Gerbe, Andrej Sekera and the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. They’re confident again on home ice after a lackluster two-game road trip.
Said Miller: “At least we can come home, have good efforts and keep building.”