Special to The Leader
No one expected the Sabres to have everything figured out right away. Transitioning to a new coach will always take time, especially when that coach also brings in an almost entirely new system for both sides of the ice. The team also brought in a number of new players through trades, free agency and the draft. Needless to say, there are going to be some growing pains.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the Sabres found themselves in the loss column twice to begin the season, losing in a shootout to the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 before getting pounded in a 6-3 loss by the New York Islanders. Starting off the season with two losses was obviously not part of the plan, but there are numerous positives to be taken away from the first weekend of play that should get fans excited.
The opening game of the season saw the Sabres take on the Canadiens on home ice, and for two periods it seemed the team that almost bottomed out in the standings from last season had the defending Atlantic Division champs on the ropes. Showing a speed and intensity that had been lacking for a better part of last season, the Sabres flew around the ice and constantly created pressure in the opposing zone.
This increased pressure led to 45 shots on goal and two goals for returning captain Jason Pominville. Ultimately however, miscues on the power play would be the Sabres downfall.
Aside from going one of five on power play opportunities on the evening, which is already a call for concern, the Canadiens ended up tying the game with a shorthanded goal midway through the third period. From that point onward, it seemed as if the Sabres simply lost steam. After a scoreless overtime period, the Sabres were forced to stare down one of the best goalies in the league in Carey Price for the shootout. As many teams have found out that usually doesn’t end well, and a game that had a lot of potential to start the Sabres season off in a huge way ended in a disappointing loss.
While the positives from the first game were rather evident, one would have to dig a bit deeper to find something to take away from the Sabres loss to the Islanders. Evander Kane had a very positive day, scoring two shorthanded goals within a six minute timespan in the second period. Jack Eichel also tagged on a goal and an assist.
Unfortunately, that is not what anyone will be talking about from this game. The big talking point will be whether or not the Sabres have a problem on their hands in goal.
Yes, it’s early in the season. Yes, it was one game after giving up only 2 regulation goals to a very good Canadiens team. But if Robin Lehner is going to get chased from the game in the second period after giving up four goals at any point this season, there will be concern. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday, with two of the goals coming shorthanded as well. Lehner is supposed to take a step forward this year after having his best season yet; but with games like this already under his belt, the questions are going to start being raised sooner rather than later.
So with two games done in the season, the overreactions will of course start flowing in. But take heart Sabres fans, for two games never decided a season. Jack Eichel is now playing with the comfort of an eight-year, 80 million dollar deal. Phil Housley is bringing in a whole lifetime of hockey experience that will take some time to develop. Most importantly, there is a fire present in this Sabres team that wasn’t there the past few seasons. Where the team will be in two months is anyone’s guess, but the building blocks of a very fast-paced and aggressive team are there. Should the powerplay and defense be tuned up, and if Lehner doesn’t continue to let the game get away in the second period, the Sabres could be aiming for a potential wild card berth or higher sooner rather than later.