Sabres beat Leafs 3-1 in Nolan's return as coach

AP News
Posted: Nov 15, 2013 10:13 PM
Sabres beat Leafs 3-1 in Nolan's return as coach

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Steve Ott had a goal and an assist, and the Sabres beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Friday night in coach Ted Nolan's first game in 16 years behind the Buffalo bench.

Marcus Foligno scored the go-ahead goal, and Christian Ehrhoff sealed it with an empty-netter in the final minute. The Sabres (5-15-1) won their second consecutive game for the first time since closing last season with two victories. They also won their second straight at home after opening the season 0-8-1 in Buffalo.

Ryan Miller stopped 32 shots, and was particularly sharp in the final minute. He had his back turned to the play, and yet got a piece of Cody Franson's point shot.

The rebound caromed to the left of the net, where Toronto's James van Riemsdyk was facing an open net before having his shot blocked by Ehrhoff, who then sent the puck into the open Maple Leafs net.

The win came two days after Sabres owner Terry Pegula fired coach Ron Rolston and general manager Darcy Regier.

They took the blame for a rebuilding plan that was showing little signs of progress. The Sabres had their worst start in franchise history.

Trevor Smith scored for the Maple Leafs (11-7-1), who dropped to 0-2-1 in their past three — their longest losing streak since going 0-3-2 from March 7-16.

Toronto has scored just four goals in regulation in five games.

Nolan previously spent two seasons coaching the Sabres before leaving over a contract dispute in 1997, after he was named NHL coach of the year.

This shake-up also featured the return of former Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine, who made his debut in a newly created role as president of hockey operations.

LaFontaine received a huge ovation when the Sabres introduced him by first shining a spotlight on his No. 16 that hangs from the rafters. Nolan had fans standing when he first stepped behind the bench.

This was a major switch for a Sabres fan base that had spent much of the season's first two months chanting "Fire Darcy!"

In the second period, fans had even more to celebrate as the Sabres responded well after Smith opened the scoring 6:25 in with a shot that deflected in off Ehrhoff's knee.

After giving up the first goal for the 19th time this season, the Sabres scored three.

Ott scored a power-play goal midway through the second by converting a rebound at the right post after goalie Jonathan Bernier got a piece of Tyler Myers' blast from the left point.

Ott then had a hand in Foligno's go-ahead goal 5:53 later. Drew Stafford, from his blue line, created a 2-on-1 break by sending a cross-ice pass that hit Ott in stride up the left wing. Driving to the net, Ott slipped the puck through the middle, and Foligno slapped it in before crashing into the net.

Nolan is a noted motivator, and his previous Sabres team earned the tag of being "the hardest working team in hockey."

His influence was apparent on Friday.

The Sabres entered the third period with a lead for only the third time this season. They got off to a solid hard-hitting start — something they had been missing under Rolston as they were outscored 27-3 and outshot 278-142 in the first period this season.

Though the Sabres failed to score in the opening 20 minutes, they carried much of the play and outshot Toronto 10-5.

It was Nolan's first NHL game since he ended a two-year stint with the Islanders with a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Rangers in the 2007-08 season finale.

NOTES: Smith had been recalled from the minors earlier Friday to fill in at center as Nazem Kadri served the first of a three-game suspension for a hit to Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom's head in a 2-1 shootout loss on Wednesday. ... LaFontaine called hiring a general manager a "priority," and said he planned to begin launching the search next week. He reiterated to The Associated Press that he hasn't contacted anyone regarding the position. ... Without Kadri, the Leafs were down a third center with Dave Bolland (ankle) and Tyler Bozak (hamstring) on the injured list. ... The teams will meet again at Toronto on Saturday.