The Best Moment from Each Buffalo Sabres Star in 2013

Dave EmkeContributor IIIDecember 24, 2013

The Best Moment from Each Buffalo Sabres Star in 2013

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    Associated Press/Gary Wiepert

    Mark Pysyk scored what might go down as the goal of his career Monday night.

    A puck he chipped went over Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith's head and stuck into the back of his pants as he slid back into the net, resulting in the game-winning overtime goal for the Buffalo Sabres.

    It was one of a rare few memorable moments for the Sabres in calendar year 2013. Through Monday night's game, the team has gone 31-45-9 during the year, and a lot of those losses have been downright ugly. Thirty-eight different skaters have suited up for the team, including a gaggle of teenagers, and few have been able to make an impact on a consistent basis.

    All this being said, for diehard Sabres fans, 2013 will still go down as a year to remember for various reasons. Aside from the on-ice highlights, there have been new players to get to know, player departures to come to terms with and—of course—the return of familiar faces behind the bench and in the front office.

    The following slides present five players who have been bright spots in Buffalo at one point or another during 2013. Some are gone; others have seemed to fade in and out. But they've all provided memories for us during the past 12 months.

Ryan Miller

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Ryan Miller has had a lot of amazing performances for the Sabres these past two seasons. April 19, at home against the New York Rangers, was not one of those games.

    After letting in three goals in the last 1:18 of the first period—including an especially embarrassing one with four seconds left—and another 1:13 into the second, Miller was yanked. Fans at the First Niagara Center showered him with boos.

    Miller was given the night off when the Sabres next played, a home game against Winnipeg, and Jhonas Enroth earned the win. With just two games left in the season and no playoffs to fight for, Enroth could have played it out—but Miller was given a reprieve and allowed to return to his place between the pipes for a road game against a Pittsburgh Penguins team that had won seven straight and was preparing for another deep playoff run.

    Miller, as he so often is, was ready for the challenge and to redeem himself. He turned aside a barrage of Penguins shots, including 20 of 21 he faced in the third period, en route to a 4-2 victory. His 40-save performance tied for his third-highest total of the season, just behind a pair of 41-save victories.

    In his postgame interview, Miller said getting a good performance after such a disappointing one always feels good.

    It was just, trying to bounce back, keep it the same as always. No matter the situation of the game, you prepare and just go out and try to help the team. That’s what I try to do every night. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, sometimes it does like tonight, and you just keep moving forward.

    So far in 2013-14, Miller has kept moving forward with many bounce-back performances like that one. He already has tallied five 40-plus-save performances this year, including a 47-save victory against San Jose in early November.

     

Jason Pominville

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    One might argue the highlight of Jason Pominville's 2013 was getting traded from a bottom-feeding Buffalo Sabres team to a Minnesota Wild team that is a competitor in the fierce Western Conference.

    Pominville did have a few more highlights in the blue and gold before he was jettisoned on April 3, though. Notably, in a shootout win against the New Jersey Devils on March 2, he did a little bit of everything.

    The then-captain started the scoring with a bullet of a shorthanded goal, one-timed off a pass from behind the net by Cody Hodgson. The Devils fought back and took a 2-1 lead early in the third, but Pominville knotted things up again with a quick shot off a Hodgson pass on a rush. The game stayed tied into a shootout, where—who else?—Pominville scored the goal that would be the eventual game-winner.

    When Pominville returned along with the Minnesota Wild to play the Sabres at First Niagara Center on Oct. 14, there was no ceremony, no video tribute. Mike Harrington bemoaned the lack of recognition in a column the next morning in The Buffalo News.

    When the first commercial break took place, the Sabres chose to use the Jumbotron to honor Kevin Porter for playing in his 200th NHL game, of which exactly 37 have been played for Buffalo.

    Not a word was said to acknowledge the return of Pominville, a guy who gave a dozen years to the organization. A former captain. A guy who scored one of the most famous overtime playoff goals in franchise history.

    The Sabres had a perfect opportunity to be classy. Instead, they were clueless.

    Meanwhile, it was Pominville who made a highlight once again in Buffalo—he scored the game-winning goal, this time against the Sabres.

Thomas Vanek

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Thomas Vanek may not be with the Sabres anymore, but fans remember all the memorable goals he scored with the team—including one of his last.

    In a 4-1 loss to Columbus on Oct. 10, Vanek camped out in front of reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky and scored his 252nd career goal, which tied him with Craig Ramsay for fifth on the Sabres' all-time goal-scoring list. The manner in which he scored the goal, however, is what got him on highlight shows across the nation.

    Captain Steve Ott passed the puck from the boards toward Vanek. With a flair for the dramatic, Vanek put his stick between his legs and directed the puck past Bobrovsky for the goal, much to the delight of the First Niagara Center crowd.

    Vanek would score just two more goals for the Sabres before being traded 17 days later to the New York Islanders in exchange for Matt Moulson and a first-round draft pick. He had many highlight-reel goals during his eight-plus years in Buffalo, but he had saved one of his best for last.

Matt Moulson

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    When Matt Moulson was acquired by the Sabres on Oct. 27, he had big skates to fill.

    He wasn't only replacing one of the Sabres' all-time leading scorers in Thomas Vanek, but he was going to be wearing his number as well. Sabres fans needed to see something impressive from him right out of the gates if they were going to accept this blockbuster trade.

    And in Moulson's first game with the team the next night, a home tilt against a Dallas Stars team led by longtime Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, he went ahead and won over many of those fans.

    Just 3:26 into the game, the newcomer lit the lamp for the first time, taking a pass from Tyler Ennis in the slot and firing it home. He added another goal late in the second period, collecting his own rebound in front and putting it behind Kari Lehtonen.

    It was a game that may be longer remembered for the tribute given to Ruff than for the performance of any one player—and certainly not for the result, a 4-3 Buffalo loss—but it was an impressive debut for the winger nonetheless.

Cody Hodgson

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Cody Hodgson has emerged as one of the top players on a young Buffalo Sabres team. In great part due to his efforts Nov. 12 against the Los Angeles Kings, the Sabres finally broke into the win column at home in 2013-14.

    Hodgson scored first on a backdoor tip-in of a pass by Steve Ott, and he added a second goal when he crashed the net on a power play and cashed in on a rebound. They were the only two goals the Sabres scored in regulation, and the team went on to win in a shootout, 3-2—their first win on home ice after starting with nine straight losses, one shy of an NHL record.

    The win was also symbolic in that it also put the team in a winning mood going into the next day—when coach Ron Rolston and general manager Darcy Regier would be released and replaced by Ted Nolan and Pat LaFontaine, ushering in a new era. The moves were planned well in advance—Nolan's son Jordan, a Kings player, was tipped off several days before—and the win, led by Hodgson, only helped bring them in with even more of a positive feeling.

    Hodgson's performance in this game was also only one example of his overall shining performance during what has otherwise been a mostly dull season for the Sabres. At the time, it gave him 14 points in 20 games on the season—which far and away led the team. He slowed down a bit afterward, but still leads the team with 19 points in 33 games played.