There was a definite get-up-and-go in Steve Ott’s game.
The forward was all over the ice, making contributions in all situations.
He had a power-play goal to tie the game and a beautiful assist for the game-winning goal in the Buffalo Sabres’ 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center on Friday night.
Oh, and he made two key plays diving after loose pucks along the blue line during third period penalty kills.
Yep. Ott was having fun. Finally.
“He was one of the first guys I spoke to when I got here,” interim coach Ted Nolan said. “And he was a little bit frustrated on how the season was going. He’s a very competitive type of guy and he didn’t like the way the group was competing. I’m quite sure he was really happy tonight.”
Indeed, Ott was happy.
“That was a fun team game,” Ott said. “Our compete, our work ethic right from the drop of the puck was pretty contagious on the bench throughout our lineup. It’s been a pretty awesome 48 hours in the sense of renewed energy and that clean slate. You’ve seen a lot of weight off a lot of guys’ shoulders out there.”
There’s a bit of weight off Ott’s shoulders, who had two points on the night after having just one assist in his last six games.
But for Ott it was about a team game with players sacrificing, taking hits, driving to the net and making plays.
The energy came not just from the regime change but from the approach Nolan is taking with the team. “Fresh slate” may have been the most overused phrase in the Sabres dressing room after the game, but it was the reason why players had jump, energy and a focused effort.
“It’s just wiping the slate clean,” Ott said. Nolan “to a man told everybody, ‘I’m not watching video on you guys. I’m not looking at your stat pack. I really don’t care. I want to see what you’re going to do for me and I’ll figure everyone out as we go here.’ And that made a lot of guys realize that Game One is basically tonight. Throw those other 20 away. Honestly it felt like a completely different room in here.”
Before the game, Nolan joked that he had rosters and line charts complete with players’ photos. “I’m still learning their names, so I might say ‘hey you, you’re up,’ ” Nolan he said after the team’s morning skate.
By the end of the game, he knew everyone’s name and had juggled some lines.
The line shifts moved guys back into natural positions. Zemgus Girgensons, who had played wing all last year in Rochester and through 19 games this season, went back to center between Marcus Foligno and Brian Flynn.
“I played there pretty much my whole career,” Girgensons said. “Last year was the first year playing wing. Yesterday and today I said I was fine playing both positions but I’m going to use the opportunity.”
Ville Leino also moved back to center between Ott and Tyler Ennis. While Ennis has played all three forward positions, the wing is where he’s most comfortable, although he’s ready to make a contribution wherever he’s slotted.
“I just said I’ve played every forward position this year. I’m kind of used to all of them,” Ennis said. “There’s been a lot of different line combinations. It’s going to be up to him to make those combinations. He’s still got to get used to us as individual players.”
“You could see in young Tyler Ennis, it seemed like a bit 50-pound weight got lifted off his back,” Nolan said. “He seems to be smiling here today. Let’s see this young kid play the way he’s capable of playing.”
Unless there is a Freaky Friday moment where Nikita Zadorov turns into Sidney Crosby, the 18-year old defenseman will likely play only two more games with Buffalo before returning to his junior team.
“The big picture is how are we going to develop this kid,” Nolan said. “We put 18 year-olds against 26-year-olds. It’s kind of unfair unless you’re Sidney Crosby or something like that. We’ll monitor. We’ll talk about it and hopefully make the best decision for what’s best for him.”
Zadorov was a first-round pick, 16th overall, by the Sabres in last June’s draft. Last year, he had 25 points in 56 games for London of the Ontario Hockey League.
He missed the first nine games this season with a finger injury and made his NHL debut against Colorado on Oct. 19.
In seven games he has one goal and is a minus-four.
The Sabres can return him to his junior team after he’s played nine games without triggering the start of his three-year contract.
He was a scratch Friday along with Johan Larsson and Mikhail Grigorenko.
Eight years ago tonight, Pat LaFontaine was inducted to the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame.
Also on this date in Sabres history, the team retired the numbers of Rick Martin and Rene Robert in a pregame ceremony on Nov. 15, 1995. And who scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars? That’s right. Pat LaFontaine.
The Buffalo Sabres have only lost the home portion of a home-and-home series with Toronto once – a 4-2 loss on Dec. 20, 1970.
The Sabres are 10-1-2 all-time in the home portion of their previous 13 home-and-home series with the Leafs.
The Buffalo Sabres will have three more Fan Food Drive Games to benefit the Food Bank of Western New York.
Fans who donate non-perishable food items or give cash donations to the Nov. 19, Nov. 24 or Nov. 27 games will receive a voucher for $25 off 300 Level II tickets to select Sabres games.