This wasn’t what the Buffalo Sabres and their fans had in mind. Thursday, they came out of the gate flat and dropped their season opener to the Montreal Canadiens 4-1. Five observations from Thursday’s game:
Sabres can’t catch a break
Wednesday afternoon, the Buffalo Sabres were eight minutes away from Jack Eichel’s injury never happening. Thursday night things went from bad to worse when forward Evander Kane slammed into the boards after losing an edge. The injury happened with just 11 seconds left in the second period.
Kane was attended to by a trainer for a few minutes before he was helped off the ice. Visibly in pain and doubled over, it appeared that Kane was grabbing his shoulder. Kane was sent to the hospital after the injury for further evaluation and precautionary measures.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) October 14, 2016
"Obviously he went into the boards hard we saw the discomfort and pain,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after the game. “There’s really not more I can tell you other than he is getting checked out at the hospital."
The Sabres have already been bit hard by the injury bug. New Sabres defender Dmitry Kulikov and forward Kyle Okposo are expected to return to the lineup soon — but with no timetable on Eichel’s return (likely several weeks) and now Kane’s status uncertain, the Sabres are running out of options. Even when everyone is healthy the Sabres have a very top-heavy roster. Now, they’ll have to move bottom-six forwards to the first and second line—and that just won’t work.
Slow out the gate
Slow might be an understatement. The first 15 minutes of the first period were quite simply a mess. The Sabres only registered one shot and couldn’t get anything going.
“It looked like we came out with a little bit of jitters,” Bylsma said. “That maybe over excitement, maybe a little over zealous took us a while to get our feet under us that first ten minutes.”
Buffalo was the slower team and had a hard time breaking out of their own end. It seemed like the puck never left their zone. With about five minutes left, the Sabres started to pick things up and registered five shots in the final four minutes. If the Sabres are going to win games they can’t start flat. We saw this same thing a lot last year, especially earlier in the season and when the year was done the lack of production early ultimately cost them.
Lehner gets C+ in first game back.
If you look at just the numbers it certainly wouldn’t look like Robin Lehner’s first game was very good — but it wasn’t terrible, either. Montreal’s first goal was a perfect shot from Brendan Gallagher that went off the post and in. After the game, Lehner said he wanted this one back; but it wasn’t a terrible goal, at least in my opinion. Montreal’s second goal was one that Lehner probably could have stopped — but seconds later he redeemed himself, robbing Alex Galchenyuk on a two-on-one. The Canadiens third goal came on a deflection from Brendan Gallagher in front of the net. Montreal added a fourth halfway through the third period after a puck just snuck by Lehner, barely crossing the goal line. On a play like, that Lehner needs to do a better job at holding his ground. Overall, I think Lehner had an average night — some nice saves but he still let in four goals.
McCabe and Reinhart have eyes in the back of their head
The Sabres' only goal came on an absolutely perfect pass from Sam Reinhart, situated behind the net, finding a wide-open Matt Moulson.
“I know with him in the middle, both five-on-five and on the power play, I know he (Moulson) is going to get open,” Reinhart said. “I like the way we work with each other down low.”
Jake McCabe found Evander Kane on a stretch pass halfway through the first period for Buffalo’s best chance early on. In the second period, McCabe made three beautiful passes in a matter of a few minutes — two of which led to scoring chances. Aside from a pinch early on that McCabe got caught on, I think he had a nice game.
Moulson off to hot start
Matt Moulson scores the #Sabres first goal of the season. I give up.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) October 14, 2016
I’ll be the first to admit, when I saw Matt Moulson with the first power play unit I criticized the decision. Thursday, he proved me wrong. 2015 was not a good year for Moulson, he has said that himself, but this should help his confidence moving forward. After Thursday’s game, Moulson was asked if it will help, but he played it off, saying “you know you want to win games and whatever you can do to help teams win, and that was just a great play by Sam on the goal.”
With the injuries piling up, Moulson could become a very important player on this roster. He’s going to get asked to contribute more offensively and take on more responsibility — and if he can get back to the Matt Moulson of 2013, Sabres fans will be very excited.
The Sabres now head out west for a road trip. Buffalo plays Edmonton Sunday at 7 p.m.
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