Sabres’ Game One Recap
The Buffalo Sabres’ season opener couldn’t have been more perfectly Buffalo.
A stuffed First Niagara Center toasted the new season with glow sticks, videos, and an exceptionally well-done pregame 3D projection show. A short 30 seconds later, that electric atmosphere shut off like a switch with Ottawa’s first goal, scored by Kyle Turris. And just like that, it’s Sabres hockey.
The Sens continued to outplay Buffalo the entire first two periods. Defensively the Sabres’ couldn’t seem to come together, even defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen struggled to slow the Ottawa offense. Line changes throughout the second period seemed to help the Sabres offense gain some momentum, but despite taking 13 shots on goal, they ended the period two down 2-0.
Story of the Game
Goalie Robin Lehner’s second period came to an early end after an awkward move around the post left him lame. After the game, Coach Bylsma told the media Lehner isn’t expected back soon, though he’s still being evaluated. Lehner is now the ninth Sabre gracing the Injured Reserve. (As of Monday, 10/12 Lehner is expected to remain on the IR 6-10 weeks with a high ankle sprain.)
Lehner’s departure brought Chad Johnson in to finish the game. Johnson gave a solid show, allowing only one goal on the eight shots he faced. Johnson will likely remain the Sabres’ starting goaltender for now while the team considers whether to borrow a long-term replacement from Rochester or trade for a third goalie. For now, Nathan Lieuwen has come up from Rochester to serve as backup.
As they did during the pre-season, the team came back in the third period and played with the spirit they lacked in the first 40 minutes. Their new aggressiveness and tighter game brought them more scoring chances as they outshot the Senators 14 to 3.
One of those shots came from Jack Eichel on an assist from Marcus Foligno. Jack scored his first regular season NHL goal with a top-shelf shot on Craig Anderson during a Sabres’ power play. The cheers from the crowd shook the rafters at FNC both for Eichel and for what seemed to be the tide turning in favor of Buffalo.
A second goal from Evander Kane came just over a minute later and tied the game at 2-2, but the goal was disallowed after the Senator’s challenged Zemgus Girgenson’s entry into the zone as being offside.
Quick Coach’s Challenge Overview
The new rule states that coaches can challenge a goal so long as they have a time out remaining and that the infraction in question occurred within the current play. If the challenge is won, the team is not penalized their time out, the goal is disallowed, and the time of the play is put back on the clock. If they lose the challenge, the goal stands and the challenging team is penalized with loss of their time out.
Despite Girgenson’s early entry into the zone not being called by the nearby linesmen, it disqualifies the goal, as there had been no stoppage in play between that missed offside call and Kane’s goal. There is no time limit on the rule, so even with 1:23 between the missed call and the goal, Ottawa wins the challenge returning the score to 2-1, and putting 1:23 back on the clock.
This was Buffalo’s first experience with the new coach’s challenge rule. After the game, Coach Bylsma told the media that even though the call went against the Sabres, it was the right call. GM Tim Murray later echoed Bylsma’s support of the rule and its application to the Girgenson’s offside.
The Sabres didn’t dwell on the disappointment of the no goal and kept up play for the rest of the third period. Their last solid chance to tie the game was a shot by Rasmus Ristolainen that rang off the post. Ottawa closed the game with a final empty net goal to tally the Sabres’ loss at 3-1.
Buffalo’s inconsistent play isn’t a surprise for a team just starting a rebuild year. Fans would have loved a home opener win, but Eichel’s goal was still a storybook moment to start the season.
As Bylsma refines offensive lines and works through his defensive challenges the team will continue to improve. Once injured players filter back into the line-up, the Sabres will be able to fully begin the process of solidifying a team that will hopefully leave fans with a few less let downs and many more reasons to cheer for the Blue and Gold.
Let’s Go Buffalo!
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