Following a rough few weeks in which the Sabres plummeted to 11th in the Eastern Conference, players hoped two days away from the rink would recharge them, perhaps clear three straight losses from their heads.
The Christmas break could be a turning point, a start of a fresh season.
“It was something we said, ‘You know what? It’s time to start talking about it. It’s time to get down to business. It’s time to clean up certain areas of the game we’re not happy with,’” winger Matt Ellis said Monday following the Sabres’ 4-2 triumph over the Washington Capitals, a game they lead 4-0 at the 14:41 mark.
The Sabres, so wretched recently, clearly used some brief rest and relaxation to their advantage, pouncing on the hapless Caps early and often inside the First Niagara Center.
When Roman Hamrlik was whistled for a delay of game penalty just nine seconds into the contest, captain Jason Pominville scored at 51 seconds, converting a nifty play from Drew Stafford and Jordan Leopold.
The Sabres never looked back. Ellis scored at 3:10. Christian Ehrhoff followed at 11:15, just his third score and second past a goalie. Michal Neuvirth was yanked after only six shots for Tomas Vokoun.
Rookie Brayden McNabb’s power-play goal, his first NHL tally, ended the frenzy. The Sabres finished the opening period with only eight shots.
“We got a good jump. In this league, the lead is important,” said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who made 20 saves. “I thought that we did a great job of supporting each other and playing the game fast, and that’s what gave us opportunities.
“We capitalized tonight, scoring early on that power play. The guys attacked the net on the rush. It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, we’re going to set up in the zone.’ They had the puck, they went for it.”