Sabres’ 2014-2015 Opener Brings Back Buffalo-style Hockey

Image courtesy of NHL.com.

Buffalo went in to Thursday night’s season opener and gave many fans exactly what they expected, but little of what they hoped for. The Sabres loss to Columbus fulfilled the prophecy set by many analysts and fueled “The Tank” movement permeating their fan base.

Opening day roster:

 

26 – Moulson 63 – Ennis 21 – Stafford
82 – Foligno 28 – Girgensons 80 – Stewart
19 – Hodgson 23 – Reinhart 12 – Gionta
44 – Deslauriers 8 – McCormick 17 – Mitchell

4 – Gorges 57 – Myers
61 – Benoit 41 – Meszaros
6 – Weber 55 – Ristolainen

1 – Enroth

Despite a week of positive talking points coming from the coaches and players, the team that took the ice last night looked a lot like the one that finished last season 21-51-10. The names and numbers on the back of many jerseys have changed, but the pitiful defense and hesitation to take advantage of their scoring chances remained the same.

No one thought there would be a spectacular start to this season. We were just hoping for a bit of an improvement. What we got was sports “Buffalo-style”, a 60 minute cycle of hope and despair ending in a 40-22 shot differential and final score of 3-2.

Period 1

The Sabres took the idea of “firsts” literally in the opening period. Scoring a win on the opening face-off and Matt Moulson taking the game’s first shot on goal gave fans a spark of hope for a respectable competition.
Number two draft pick, Sam Reinhart, won his first official NHL face-off, and later got his first initiation into NHL level intimidation. Kudos to Mike Weber (huh?) for jumping to provide support for Reinhart, establishing himself as a physical defender. It would be nice to see him defend the puck with the same enthusiasm.

The team received and killed a total of three penalties in the first period keeping the game scoreless. However, most of the credit for the scoreless period goes to Jhonas Enroth. The Sabres’ number one goalie managed to stop all 12 shots on goal, compensating for the lack of coordination in the defense.

Period 2

A first intermission chat with Coach Nolan put some energy back into the team. Their speed at returning to the zone picked up, as did their cohesiveness in defense. The defense excelled at shot blocking, but allowed Columbus too much time in the offensive zone and too many chances to score. Enroth finally succumbed to the onslaught giving Columbus the first goal of the night.

Zemgus Girgensons managed to turn the game into a 1-1 tie a little over a minute later, scoring the Sabre’s opening goal of the season for the second year in a row. His stylish goal turned out to be the only highlight for period two. The defense continued to struggle losing ground and track of opposing players as the period drug on.

Period 3

The third period gave the Sabres their best scoring chances and showed some potential for great play as the season progresses. Cody Hodgson and Sam Reinhart combining for a solid shot on goal but were denied by Columbus’ agile goaltending.

A power play opened a chance for Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson to score, raising the spirits of the team and fans. However, the Sabres’ advantage quickly vanished with a rookie-mistake hooking penalty taken by Brian Gionta.
Columbus turned Gionta’s error and a flat-footed defense into a 4-on-4 goal taking them up 2-1. Down a goal, the Sabres reverted to lazy defensive play and lack of man-to-man coverage. Enroth gave up the final goal on a top-shelf shot from Columbus ending the game at 3-1.

Buffalo Hockey

Across the league, plenty of strong teams ended their opener with a loss. The reigning Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings were soundly spanked by San Jose, so it’s fair to say many teams are working out their season starting jitters.

Let’s hope the same is true for the Sabres. The team needs to kick their bad habits and get back to the Buffalo-style of hockey that was made of fast skating, hard hitting, and aggressive goal scoring. This roster has the abilities to do that. Now, let’s see if Nolan and his staff can bring it out.

Quite honestly, I’ll be thrilled if they can get it together and put an end to the McDavid/Tank bandwagon. It’s an albatross around the neck of the team they will carry all season if they don’t put their hearts into turning it into something fans want to cheer for instead of endure.

Plus, everyone seem to be forgetting one player isn’t going to make a team Stanley Cup champs. No one can carry a team who can’t defend their goal and get him in a position to score. The type of play we’ve seen so far isn’t going to support even the best new player.

Besides, it’s just not any damn fun to lose! Let’s Go Buffalo!

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