• Sal Maiorana

The Sabres once scored 14 goals in one game

BUFFALO (Dec. 21, 1975) - Fourteen goals in one game? It doesn’t seem possible in this day and age when the Buffalo Sabres score goals about as often as NHL fans are heard to say, “bring back the neutral zone trap” or “Gary Bettman is a brilliant commissioner.”

But 43 years ago – back in the heyday of the French Connection – Buffalo scored 14 goals in a game against the Washington Capitals at Memorial Auditorium, a team record that still stands today and may never be broken.

Amazing? Well, when you consider that the Sabres scored a grand total of 26 goals in 13 games during November 2017 on their way to a last-place finish in the NHL standings – that’s right, 26 goals in a month – yeah, 14 seems just a bit amazing.

But remember, this was a special time in Sabres history. The team had just played in its first Stanley Cup Final the previous spring, the French Connection was at its flying peak, feisty Danny Gare was on his way to 50 goals, Don Luce and Craig Ramsay were re-defining the art of penalty-killing, and hulking defensemen Jim Schoenfeld and Jerry Korab were checking opponents into oblivion.

This was a team built on speed and scoring, a team that thrilled the constantly sold-out Aud on a nightly basis, and during the first two and a half months of the 1975-76 season it had already scored at leaMXLLS​​st five goals in a game 13 times. The 2017-18 team scored five or more just seven times in 82 games.

However, despite all their puck wizardry, coach Floyd Smith’s team had fallen into a rut of sorts, and it was the second-year Capitals’ misfortune that they happened to stroll into the Aud on this night.

“I feel sorry for Washington because we took all of our frustrations of the last month out on them,” said Smith when the 14-2 demolition was finished and his team had set an NHL record for most individual points in a game by one club (40), and tied the league marks for goals in a period (8) and individual points in a period (23).

Buffalo began the 1975-76 season seemingly on a seek-and-destroy mission. The Sabres, still smarting from their six-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1975 Cup finals, won their first eight games by a combined score of 46-17, and eventually they were 16-3-1 by Thanksgiving and way ahead in the Adams Division race.

But injuries, sloppy defense, and a few flat offensive efforts conspired to send the team spiraling into a 3-6-3 slump over the next month. When the Bruins rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Buffalo 5-3 at Boston Garden the day before the Washington game, Buffalo and Boston were tied for the division lead.

Woe to the Capitals, a team that won just 8 of 80 games its first year of its existence and would go on to win just 11 of 80 in 1975-76.

Bill Torrey, the general manager who built the New York Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s, once said of Buffalo’s French Connection, “The Connection is lightning in a thunderstorm. You never know when they are going to strike. You just have to hope that when they play against your team they have an off night.”

With that in mind, it seemed like the Capitals might be catching a break because Smith had split up the Connection for a brief time in order to spread out the scoring. Smith shifted Rick Martin from left to right wing on a line with center Peter McNab and grinding left-winger Brian Spencer. Meanwhile, Connection right-winger Rene Robert was out with an injury, leaving Gilbert Perreault to skate with Jacques Richard and Fred Stanfield.

It really didn’t matter.

Martin erupted for four goals, Stanfield had three, Perreault and Luce scored a pair each, and Gare, McNab and Ramsay had one apiece.

“My arms were getting tired tonight,” said Martin, who increased his goal total to 22 for the season, one off the league-leading total of Philadelphia’s Reg Leach and Pittsburgh’s Jean Pronovost. “You know, this was one of the first nights in about a month where all the guys were enthusiastic. Our spirit has been down, but everybody was really happy after the game tonight. Everybody seemed to snap back.”

Gee, ya think?

When the horn brought the carnage to an end, Buffalo had out-shot Washington 50-15 for the game.

“When the goals kept going in, you could see the tempo of the game pick up,” Smith said in a classic understatement. “We seemed to gain confidence and we skated and passed the puck better.”

Oh, what days those were.

#BuffaloSabres #WashingtonCapitals #GilbertPerreault #RickMartin #FloydSmith #DonLuce