My notepad for yesterday's matinee between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Buffalo Sabres didn't have a lot written in it. Which is a good thing.
First off, the Sabres played a game that didn't warrant a lot of notes and the ones that did make it in are all of the positive variety. And when you look at their overall game, the passing and playmaking was so good that the highlights and the final score give a pretty good indication as to just how well Buffalo played yesterday.
The Sabres 4-2 win over Vegas featured leads of 2-0 and 4-1 for Buffalo before the Golden Knights made things a bit interesting with a goal midway through the third period. It also featured a solid transition game and team defense which made watching the game fun for a change. Add that onto a 35-save performance from goalie Carter Hutton and you have a lot of smiles emanating from the Sabres locker room afterwards.
For Sabres fans it was a fun game to watch. The crowd at KeyBank Center has been dying to roar for years and over the past two games the Sabres have given them something to roar about. From Conor Sheary's two goals on Saturday to captain Jack Eichel's two goals yesterday, the roar of excitement displaced years of booing at KeyBank Center.
Yesterday's win also put an end to a six-game winless streak of Kid's Day games under GM Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley dating back to last year. Whereas last season parents had to cover their children's eyes while wondering why they'd ever submit them to the nightmare unfolding on the ice, this season's schedule of six Kid's Day games began with a good, solid win yesterday.
The win over Vegas came on One Buffalo Day, as designated by Mayor Byron Brown three years ago to celebrate the Pegula's purchase of the Buffalo Bills on October 8, 2015. Terry and Kim Pegula had owned the Sabres and their purchase of the Bills made for a nice One Buffalo package. On Sunday their Bills came back home after a tough, two-game road trip where they went 1-1 and proceeded to defeat the Tennessee Titans on a field goal as time expired.
That One Buffalo win came on the heels of a 3-1 win by the Sabres over the Rangers on Saturday and just for good measure, another Buffalo team, the Beauts of the NWHL, pitched an afternoon shutout on the road in their season-opening win.
Four games, four wins.
It's a strange feeling to come off of a holiday weekend and not go over what went wrong in losses although there's been plenty of back and forth arguing about how the Bills won. Sure, it wasn't a pretty football win as they won with a little old fashioned Ground Chuck offense backed by some strong and opportunistic play on defense. Yet from the end of the game until now, there've been yammerings as to a poor offensive showing and how that style isn't sustainable in today's NFL. The Bills are in the midst of a brutal opening to the season where they play five of their first seven games on the road and just came off of games at Minnesota and at Green Bay. I'm of the opinion that a win's a win, especially for both the Sabres and Bills at this stage of their team developments
As for the Sabres, they played a strong game yesterday in many facets and despite allowing 37 shots on goal they looked like they were in control for large chunks of the game. Their breakouts were particularly strong, they played with speed and got to the puck fast. There was puck support all over the ice and they buried their opportunities, most notably in the second period when they scored three goals on their first three shots and ended up with on only five shots the entire period. They also looked very calm with the puck yesterday, waiting for the play to unfold instead of forcing the issue.
After a horrid season-opening shutout loss at home against the Boston Bruins, the Sabres came back and won two in a row to put them over the .500 mark for the first time since January, 2013. The NHL was coming out of the lockout that year and into a shortenened 48-game season. Lindy Ruff was behind the bench in what would be his final days coaching the Sabres. Ruff and his charges got off to a 2-0 start then lost a home-and-home January 24-25 to the Carolina Hurricanes that would drop them to .500 hockey and they wouldn't surpass that mark until 2,083 days had passed with 458 games played.
This was the opening night lineup for Buffalo that season:
Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Jason Pominville
Marcus Foligno-Tyler Ennis-Drew Stafford
Jochen Hecht-Mikhail Grigorenko-Steve Ott
Patrick Kaleta-Matt Ellis-John Scott
Robyn Regehr-Tyler Myers
Jordan Leopold-Andrej Sekera
Christian Ehrhoff-Alexander Sulzer
The Sabres are now on their fifth coach since then and are on their third general manager. Since dropping to .500 that January, the Sabres have a 156-230-53 record finishing last in the league three of those five seasons.
So if things fell a little strange for you this fine Tuesday, know that you're not alone. The sense of optimism permeating Sabreland right now, isn't the norm at this time of year and when you have a winning weekend like Buffalonians just had, it's good to feel that way.
Just roll with it.
Some notes on yesterday's game
--It was good to see Buffalo's fourth line come through with a goal. The trio of Evan Rodrigues flanked by Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville have been the Sabres most consistent line in these first three games. All the zone-time and cycling they'd done finally paid off as Pominville took a feed from Rodrigues and buried it (see below.) Housley loves this line as he can put them out in any situation, anywhere on the ice.
--Sometimes Eichel makes it look so easy. Eichel found himself all alone in front of Vegas goalie Mark Andre Fleury and roofed a backhand from in tight as shown here:
--Adding Sheary to the line of Eichel and Sam Reinhart looks pretty good so far. Sheary is a whirling dervish on the cycle in the offensive zone and so far Eichel and Reinhart have been able to play into that. They just missed scoring another goal yesterday when Reinhart hit the post on a feed from Eichel.
--Marco Scandella chalked one up for the defense last night in Buffalo's third game as he sent a change-up from the point that deflected before going in. Last season it was Jake McCabe scoring the first goal from a Buffalo defenseman. But he didn't do so until December 5, Buffalo's 29th game of the season.
--Speaking of McCabe, he's been solid for Buffalo on the back end as more of a stay-at-home d-man to Rasmus Dahlin's offensive-minded play. In looking at this duo, it's not a pure Bill Hajt/Phil Housley-type pairing as McCabe loves to find that that soft spot in the offensive zone and won't hesitate to jump in while Dahlin's anything but a cupcake on defense.
--Forwards Johan Larsson and Vladimir Sobotka look to be ready to return to the ice and should both be activated, someone will have to go. If Larsson fits into Buffalo's plans, the easiest thing for the Sabres to do would be to sent winger Tage Thompson to the Amerks. Thompson has had a decent three-game stint with the Sabres but really hasn't done nothing to stand out save for some nifty stickwork against Vegas. He's also waivers-exempt which makes it a no-brainer. That is if they want to keep Larsson with the big club.
--And, finally goalie Carter Hutton's stat-line through three games: 2-1-0 record, 2.06 goals-against average, .943 save percentage. That includes the 4-0 drubbing in the season opener when he allowed three goals on 25 shots.
Oh, and just for good measure, here's Eichel's, Alex Ovechkin-type one-timer from the circle to open the scoring:
All videos via Sabres.com