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By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributor - Archive - Email
Sabres not waiting for success
Buffalo Sabres After starting the season 3-12-2, the Sabres have won of their last 11.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Buffalo Sabres know that they have the entire country of Latvia behind them, but their recent string of success may start to bring the rest of Western New York back into the fold.

When the Sabres fell to 3-13-2 following a loss to the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 13, those fans still left watching the club likely went to bed with continued fantasies of junior superstar Connor McDavid speeding around First Niagara Center sporting the navy blue and gold.

After all, the Sabres seemed destined at having the best chance at securing the top selection in the upcoming draft, earning the right to select either McDavid or fellow center Jack Eichel. Both players are believed to have the ability to cornerstone a franchise, something Buffalo seemed to desperately need at the time.

Maybe the Sabres still do, but head coach Ted Nolan and his players weren't really on board with the whole "tanking" thing and have instead decided to, you know, go out and win games.

Buffalo has won eight of 11 since that loss to the Wild. Now tied for 26th out of the 30 teams in the overall NHL standings, the Sabres are talking -- and more importantly playing -- like a team that believes it can win each night.

"I think this team has taken a 180 from where we were at the start of the year," said forward Matt Moulson. "I think now we believe in each other and we're competing a lot harder. We know what we have to do to have success and get wins."

Thursday's home encounter with the Calgary Flames, a gutsy 4-3 win, was a perfect example of Sabres hockey as of late.

Twice in the game, the Sabres failed to hold a lead and they then fell behind by a goal just 3:14 into the third frame.

The Buffalo Sabres that took the ice in October and the early part of November likely would have folded and gone home, but not this newly-inspired bunch. Instead, future All-Star Zemgus Girgensons (more on that later) put home a game-tying goal and Moulson came through with a game-winner with 7:29 to play.

That gave the Sabres a victory despite the squad getting outshot 45-19.

"It wasn't one of our better games, but it showed that the belief factor is starting to creep in. We weren't in the game, but we still believed we could come back," said Nolan.

There is no doubt that Nolan's club plays with fire each night. Even during its string of success, the Sabres have scored more than two goals only twice in their last nine and remain dead-last in the NHL with 1.66 goals per game.

But confidence in the defense and goaltending, especially Jhonas Enroth, has been key. The Sabres have allowed two goals or fewer five times over the aforementioned nine-game span and have avoided beating themselves with bad mistakes.

"You're not going to have an A-game every night, but if you're doing those little things right, they're going to pay off," noted Moulson.

It has certainly helped Enroth, who is 7-2-0 over his last nine games with a 1.93 goals against average and .944 save percentage.

Nolan pointed out after Thursday's win how the line of Moulson, Girgensons and Tyler Ennis, one that was put together back in mid-November, has helped to spark the club.

Girgensons, meanwhile, is starting to become a little famous around the NHL, much like he already is back in his home country of Latvia. The 20-year-old's goal versus the Flames was his career-high ninth of the season, surpassing the eight he scored in 70 games as a rookie last season.

Now, nine goals through 29 games and 16 points that don't even lead the team certainly don't scream All-Star, but the much-argued tradition of fan voting has led to an unforeseen turn of events.

When Tuesday's update of the All-Star voting was released, Girgensons continued to pace the pack with 803,805 votes.

To put that into perspective, the second-leading getter in votes is Chicago's Patrick Kane -- with 375,758.

That, of course, is possible due to online voting, giving the entire world a say in who will skate in this season's All-Star Game. According to the Sabres, 82 percent of Girgensons' votes came from Latvians.

"It's crazy. People back home are just crazy hockey fans, Girgensons, the 14th overall pick of the 2012 draft and native of Riga, Latvia, told "NHL Live" on Wednesday. "It's always been like that. It's fun, it's cool, mixed emotions. It's funny at the same time."

What isn't funny is teams still expecting to pick up easy wins against the Sabres.


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