Cross Checks: Drew Stafford
TORONTO -- The Buffalo Sabres needed just one game of this new, shortened season to send a message to the rest of the league.
They intend on not getting pushed around anymore.
And the guy sending the message wasn’t who you’d expect. Which is exactly the point.
When Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers hammered Sabres center Tyler Ennis from behind Sunday, Drew Stafford went after the rugged winger, and while he took the worst of it, that moment can do wonders for a team whose toughness has been questioned in recent years.
"A guy like Drew Stafford stepped up and fought a tough guy like Hartsy," new Sabres forward Steve Ott told ESPN.com before Monday night’s game in Toronto. "It not’s his usual thing to do that but Drew showed that we’re in this together, we’re going to stick up for each other. He’s got an 'A' on his chest and I was personally really proud and really excited for Drew."
I’m not a big proponent of fighting, but as long as it still exists in this game, you can’t ignore its influence. For skilled players to feel comfortable, they have to feel like someone has their back.
The additions of Ott and tough guy John Scott in the offseason signaled that the Sabres understood the need to beef up.
The Sabres appeared rattled last season in the wake of the Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller incident in which, the Sabres essentially never pushed back after the Boston Bruins winger ran over Buffalo's franchise goalie.
"Last year that whole Lucic thing sent this team for a tailspin, big-time," former Sabres tough guy and now TV color analyst Rob Ray said Monday. "I think just adding those guys was important."
Ott, Scott, Patrick Kaleta and Marcus Foligno are willing fisticuff participants, but the point of this season for the Sabres is to prove that there exists team toughness throughout; that nobody will get intimidated.
"It doesn’t matter who it is but we have to stick up for each other," Stafford said after the morning skate at Air Canada Centre. "It’s part of the game. If guys are going to run around, we just need to respond. In years past, obviously we were criticized for not responding. It’s something we wanted to take care right away this season. And it’s something we’re going to continue to do."
Stafford’s rare fight fueled his team, with the Sabres scoring three unanswered goals in the third period Sunday for a 5-2 win over the Flyers.
"I think those plays all really add to team toughness," agreed head coach Lindy Ruff. "We’ve had some good moments, also some tough moments as a team, but that was a real good moment. It was a shot from behind against his linemate and it was great to see him step in."
It all starts with Ott, who scored on a beauty of a shot Sunday, and his willingness to hit anybody that breathes has an effect on the rest of his teammates. That’s why they traded for him.
"He definitely adds energy, physicality, intensity, he’s been in the league a while so he adds that veteran presence," said Stafford. "We also added John Scott and that’s something we wanted to address in the summertime. We want to play harder to play against this. And we wanted to establish that right away."
Ott fully understands why he was brought in.
"For me personally, I want to bring sandpaper and compete to our team," he said. "You try to drag other guys into battle. By going out there and playing hard, you hope that other guys follow. It works like a chain reaction."
It won’t take fans long in Toronto, Boston, Montreal and Ottawa to find out Ott is now a Sabre. He will aggravate the entire Northeast Division and make opposing star players aware of his presence as well.
"For my myself, there’s nothing better than competing against the top-end guys," said Ott. "Some people may say it’s unfair to run the top-end guys, but you know what? It’s the NHL and nothing is fair and nothing is easy. You have to make it hard on them. If you don’t play them tight and hard, they’ll make you look silly in a hurry."
Oh, and he knows all about last season’s Bruins-Sabres history and has already looked to the schedule for his team’s first game in Boston.
"I saw it was Jan. 31," Ott said with a smile. "It’s great. The rivalries in this division are so much fun. I live for these type of games."
Cole’s three goals gave him a total of 30 for the season and tied him with fellow American Max Pacioretty for the Canadiens’ team lead. Montreal is the first NHL team to have two U.S.-born players each score 30 or more goals in the same season since 2005-06, when Brian Gionta (48) and Scott Gomez (33) did so for the Devils.
• The Jets overcame a 3-0 deficit to record a 4-3 overtime victory against the Capitals in Washington. It was the fifth time in Thrashers/Jets franchise history that they won a road game in which they trailed by three goals. The four previous instances came when the team was located in Atlanta, with the most recent of those comeback wins coming against the Flyers in Philadelphia on March 12, 2011.
• Drew Stafford scored two goals in the Sabres’ 4-1 win over the Rangers in New York. Stafford has only two multiple-goal games this season and they’ve both come at Madison Square Garden. He scored both Buffalo goals in the Sabres’ 3-2 loss at MSG on Feb. 25. Stafford is only the second player in Sabres history with two multi-goal games in one season at the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” Rick Martin had a pair of two-goal games at the Garden for Buffalo in 1974-75.
• The Maple Leafs scored on all three of their shootout attempts against Martin Brodeur, enabling them to leave Newark with a 4-3 win over the Devils after blowing a 3-1 lead in the third period. Brodeur has participated in 62 shootouts during the seven seasons that the NHL has used the tiebreaker. Friday’s game marked only the fourth time that Brodeur allowed three or more goals in one shootout and it was the first time that a team scored on its first three attempts against him.
• R.J. Umberger scored three goals to lead the Blue Jackets to a 5-1 win over the Hurricanes. It was the third hat trick of Umberger’s NHL career and his second for Columbus. (His first three-goal game was for the Flyers in 2007.) Umberger is one of only five players in Blue Jackets history with more than one hat trick. The others are Rick Nash (5), Tyler Wright (3), Geoff Sanderson (2) and Jeff Carter (2).
• Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk was unscored upon in a four-round shootout that earned him a 2-1 win against the Panthers. Dubnyk is 11-6-1 in 18 games since the All-Star break, after posting a 7-11-1 mark in 23 games this season before the break.
The team made the announcement from Helsinki, Finland, where Buffalo will open its regular season against Anaheim as part of the NHL's Premiere Games.
"It's an honor to represent the team," Pominville said to his teammates in a video released by the team. "I think we're going to have to hold each other accountable. ... Regardless of whether you have a letter on your jersey or not, if you see something that can help the team and make us better, just let anyone know about it."
There were four hat tricks in the NHL on Wednesday night with three players reaching the feat for the first time in their careers.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Fleischmann and Ryan Kesler scored their first tricks, while Drew Stafford posted his third. Through Wednesday's action, there have been 38 hat tricks this season, eight more than at the same point in 2009-10.
Check out each player's goals here:
Hard to believe this was the first career hat trick for Lidstrom. Only took him 1,442 games! (If you missed it, be sure to check out Pierre LeBrun's profile on the Detroit Red Wings defenseman.)
Just over two weeks ago, the Washington Capitals traded Tomas Fleischmann to the Avalanche for Scott Hannan. After scoring just four goals in the 23 games with the Caps before the deal, he now has five goals in seven games with the Avs, including Wednesday's third-period hat trick against the Hawks.
Drew Stafford scored all the goals for Buffalo in its 3-2 win over Boston for his third career NHL hat trick.
Ryan Kesler's goal was a little more dramatic. After the Canucks gave up a third-period lead, he scored in overtime to give Vancouver a 3-2 win over Columbus. (Video: NHL)