THE LEAD STORY: The Buffalo Sabres were lazy in the first period, particularly on the power play and paid dearly for it. Already down 1-0 but with the man advantage Buffalo allowed the New York Islanders to score consecutive goals shorthanded. In all New York found the net three times in just 1:47 to jump to a 4-0 lead and were never seriously threatened as they skated to a 6-3 home opener win in Brooklyn Saturday night.
MVP: If Evander Kane is troubled over being on the last year of his contract and potential trade bait later this season, he’s not showing it. Kane had a game-high 11 shots in the Montreal opener and was at his best Saturday in New York with the Sabres a man down. After New York raced to a 4-0 lead in the second period before hitting cruise control, Kane took over with a pair of shorthanded goals to keep Buffalo alive after 40 minutes. On the first he took a perfect pass from Jack Eichel to bury his first goal of the season and not long after his relentless (along with Ryan O’Reilly) netted him his second. It’s a great sign to see one of Buffalo’s most talented players off to an aggressive start.
LVP: You can’t blame him for the ridiculous lack of support teammates gave in front with inexcusably silly turnovers but for the love of God—sometimes you just have to make some saves and bail your team out. Robin Lehner flopped to the ice like he was dazed and confused on Tavares’ first period goal, and all three second period goals surrendered came on shots that could’ve been stopped. Again, Lehner received no help from his teammates but was as much a part of the problem as anyone. Based on tonight I’m ready to give Chad Johnson an extended look. LVP honorable mention goes to defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, who was categorically atrocious in his own end.
♦ Admittedly I tend to be a knee-jerk reactor but even I know it’s too early to pile on Phil Housley behind the bench. Still, it’s troublesome for me to see Buffalo cut a four goal lead in half before skating to the locker for the second intermission, only to come out and go 13 minutes without registering a single shot on goal in the third. It’s even more alarming that New York was playing the second of back-to-back games, not Buffalo and the Islanders dropped their opener in Columbus last night, 5-0. You’d think they’d be the team with little gas left. Sure, Eichel cut the deficit to two late but the damage was already done.
♦ It’s only a two game sample size, but the Sabres defense looks awful. All of them, including Risto Ristolainen and Jake McCabe. I can’t think of one guy on the unit that’s played well through two games. Marco Scandella looks a bit slow for my liking. Hopefully he’s not a more expensive version of Josh Gorges. Speaking of, what does it say about Gorges if he can’t get in this lineup over Matt Tennyson right now? God only knows what Beaulieu was thinking when he gift-wrapped John Tavares a second period goal to blow the game open and again in the third on New York’s fifth goal, as he let not one but two New York Skaters behind him at the net. I’ve barely noticed Victor Antipin—hell by comparison tonight that’s probably a good thing. In fairness four of the six blue liners are new to the organization and will take time to build chemistry, but the sledding has been painful early on.
♦ I can’t think of an alternative that doesn’t mess up the second and third lines, but I’m already over seeing cornerstone players Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo skating with Benoit Pouliot. Problem is there’s no obvious alternative that doesn’t throw a wrench in the Eichel or Sam Reinhart lines. Zegmus Girgensons spent time with the duo during the preseason but he’s looked good with Rinehart and Seth Griffith to give Buffalo a respectable third line. I don’t know—If I’m Houlsey it’s worth considering giving Griffith a look there or promoting Justin Bailey. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong but I don’t like Pouliot in a top six role. I barely like him in a top 12 role, to be honest.
NOTES: Buffalo has now given up three shorthanded goals in two games while the power play went 0-for-4 tonight. To say the unit needs some work is an understatement… Nearly everything about this game, except the score of course was even. Buffalo was outshot but only by 33-29, while each team blocked 11 shots and New York had a slim 25-23 hits edge… Sam Reinhart played a strong first period and nearly scored with 1:11 left but everything in between went against him. He was a minus-five for the night… Kyle Okposo is a minus-five for the season. That’s not good… Kane finished with a team-high eight shots on net. No one else had more than three… Johan Larsson and Jacob Josefson tied with a team-high four hits apiece… Eichel’s 21:02 ice time was the most among forwards while Ristolainen led all Buffalo skaters with 24:27.
THE BIG PICTURE: This was on the second game of the season but felt like January with the Sabres playing for the fourth time in six nights. Seriously, they looked slow and lethargic in the neutral zone and in their own end, with each big mistake in the game’s first 30 minutes ending with the puck in their net. To their credit the didn’t pack up shop and run to the bus thanks to a pair of second period shorthanded goals from Kane, but playing that poorly to get into insurmountable hole is something this team isn’t good enough to do and come back from. Thursday the entire offense was supplied by Jason Pominville and tonight it was Kane, Eichel and no one else. Others need to start stepping up— soon.
UP NEXT: Buffalo’s back home to face the New Jersey Devils Monday. Maybe someone can plant Devils rookie defenseman Will Butcher into the boards as payback for not signing with Buffalo as a college free agent this summer. Butcher had three assists for New Jersey Saturday afternoon.
I’ll be shocked if Johnson doesn’t see his first start in net.