Sunrise, FL (WGR 550) -- The Sabres spent the better part of two days talking about offense and creating offense, but the only Sabre to do so early was the guy who was benched for two games, Drew Stafford. Buffalo had just three shots 15 minutes into the game.
Stafford had a rush coming down the right wing and saw Andrej Sekera bearing down the slot. He put the shot right on net and Jacob Markstrom made a great save on Sekera as the puck went right to him.
Later, Stafford got himself open in front of the net and Tyler Ennis saw him. The worst passing team in the NHL struck again as Ennis didn’t get the puck anywhere near the wide open Stafford. I would expect a good high school team to be able to complete that play, but Buffalo’s best players have missed it twice in two games.
On Stafford’s first shift, he did a nice job of battling along the wall and setting up Ennis.
Robyn Regehr found himself without an outlet and Stafford did a nice job getting back and closing the gap.
Stafford was on the ice for the first Florida goal, but he was where he was supposed to be, covering the point. Tyler Myers blocked the shot, but lost the rebound to Shawn Matthias who scored his eighth goal in 15 games.
In the first 20 minutes Stafford had six shifts for 5:20 of work.
It took until the second period, but the Sabres finally started doing what their coach asked them to do and it produced three goals including one by Stafford.
Stafford scored when he got situated in front of the net with Marcus Foligno and screened Markstrom. He got his stick on Christian Ehrhoff’s shot for his 5th of the season.
Andrej Sekera has been more active in the offense than he’s been all season and his slap shot from the point hit Tomas Kopecky’s stick and it went in.
Stafford produced the turnover that turned into Buffalo’s first goal. He relayed the puck up to Ennis who found Nathan Gerbe. His shot hit a Panther and put Buffalo on the board just 53 seconds after Tomas Fleischmann’s power play goal made it 2-0.
Buffalo got 14 shots in the second period which is more than they had the whole game in Tampa.
Ron Rolston is not fooling around on the bench. Leino didn’t play after yapping at the linesman and getting a penalty that cost them a goal. Tyler Myers got two shifts in the second period. He returned early in the third.
Through two periods, Stafford had 14 shifts for 13 minutes. He's been used in all situations, five on five, power play and penalty killing.
Buffalo couldn't hold the lead. After a failed power play where Jason Pominville missed a wide open net wide, Kevin Porter was weak on a puck allowing Shawn Matthias to steal it and before they were done, Matthias had his second goal of the game.
Midway through the third period Stafford made a critical defensive play with the score tied at three. I rebound was loose in front of Ryan Miller and collapsed back into the slot, got the puck out and even skated it up ice into the offensive zone.
Before Marcus Foligno tipped in a power play goal, Stafford won a battle in front to jump on a rebound. The Panthers tied it up again, however, and eventually won the game in the shootout.
Overall I think Stafford had a great game. I liked many things he did and seemed to be moving his feet and competing all night long.
Rolston liked Stafford's game as well. "He was getting over pucks and he was strong on them in the offensive zone, and moved his feet," Rolston said. "He did some good things out there with [Ennis]."
Stafford got to the front of the net on his goal and knows he has to keep doing that. "Seems like it's pretty simple," he said. "Definitely, it's not easy. If you just stick with those kinds of things, like I said, eventually you will get rewarded. Just unfortunate it has to take this long. I felt as though I had a couple more looks as well that [Markstrom] made some good saves."
NOW, let's put Stafford's performance in perspective, it's only one game and needs to continue.