Another year has come and gone for the Buffalo Sabres. While the 2016-17 season got off to a rocky start and proved to be a struggle for the injury-plagued Sabres, there were plenty of memorable games and great moments that provided us a glimpse into a promising future. We have compiled our list for the top 10 games of the season, starting with No. 10:
10. February 7 vs. San Jose
A game in which nothing was going their way. The third seemed like it was going to be a slow, painful march to the finish for the Sabres. After not producing much of anything on offense down 3-1, the Sabres even found a new way to take a penalty with Justin Bailey whiffing on a dump in and catching Paul Martin right in the face for high sticking. That man advantage allowed Joe Pavelski to score to make it 4-1 Sharks.
Then the guys wearing blue woke up in a big way. A hooking call on otherworldly Sharks’ defenseman Brent Burns allowed O’Reilly to break through on the power play to make it 4-2. About two and a half minutes later Kane would make it 4-3 on a wraparound on a play that was followed by a lengthy, but inconclusive offside challenge from the Sharks. Not a minute later Okposo cashed in on a beautiful cross ice feed from Sam Reinhart to tie the game up.
In overtime, after Eichel missed on a great chance a bit earlier, he and Kane came down on a 2-on-1 that was finished by Kane, winning the game for the Sabres with his 16th of the season.
9. October 16 vs. Edmonton
After Jack Eichel went down in practice with a freak injury the day before the regular season commenced, and the rest of the team came out flat for their home opener, the organization and its’ fans needed something to lift their spirits, fast.
The pick-me-up came in the form of a dominate road victory against the Edmonton Oilers. Sans Eichel, but with Ryan O’Reilly returning to the lineup after also missing the home opener, the Sabres secured their first win of the season by piling up six goals on the Oilers.
After a back-and-forth period, the teams entered the second tied two goals apiece, and Buffalo took over. The Sabres scored four straight times, while stifling Edmonton’s offensive studs like Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Among all the goals, most memorable was O’Reilly’s early in the second period–a harmless dump in from beyond center ice that somehow bounced past Edmonton netminder Cam Talbot.
8. November 29 vs. Ottawa
The team performed admirably enough during Eichel’s absence with an ankle sprain, going 7-9-5, but it really felt like the season began anew when Jack returned to the lineup and made his season debut at the tail end of November for a road game against the Senators.
He got off to a furious start, assisting on Kyle Okposo’s opening goal while Buffalo was on the power play, and tallied his first of the year just 9:31 into the opening period, also while on the power play.
The Senators battled back on more than one occasion, including a goal that brought them within one with just 1:31 left in regulation, but Buffalo’s revitalized offense kept them ahead. Ryan O’Reilly notched two goals on the night, and Sam Reinhart added his own for the team’s big four to all contribute to a big win.
7. January 20 vs. Detroit
A game that served as the first in a three-game stretch, which arguably provided the most exciting hockey for the Buffalo Sabres all season long. Coming off of disappointing 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs just one game before, the Sabres were eager to bounce back.
It took them some time to get their skates under them, however, as they surrendered an early goal and only matched it in the second period. The game remained deadlocked until the last leg of the third period, when Detroit delivered what seemed like a dagger of a goal late.
Instead of being rattled, Ryan O’Reilly took the game into his own hands with a one-man-effort that saw him carry the puck nearly from one end of the rink to the other, before burying it with a beauteous backhand. Overtime provided plenty of excitement, too, with the Sabres surviving a critical penalty kill, and then Kyle Okposo finishing it while Buffalo took their own power play.
6. January 3 vs. NY Rangers
In a year where the Sabres struggled all season long, they have somehow been anathema to one of the league’s best in the New York Rangers. Their 4-1 victory in New York was their second on the season, and even more impressive than their 4-3 victory in the first meeting between the two teams.
Buffalo started early, as Evander Kane and Zemgus Girgensons scored in the first period, while Justin Bailey netted his first NHL goal after just a little over a minute played in the second period.
Jack Eichel also scored on the night, while Sam Reinhart assisted twice and pushed his point streak to a career-best seven games at the time. Anders Nilsson was nearly perfect on the night, fending off all but one of New York’s 25 shots and once again managing to outduel countryman Henrik Lundqvist.
5. November 19 vs. Pittsburgh
Losing six straight games is grueling for any team, no matter their collective experience or accomplishment in the NHL. For a young team like the Sabres that were still reeling from Eichel’s injury, their November skid must have been demoralizing.
Somehow, they shook it off in time for a meeting with one of the most elite team’s in the NHL. Their offense still wasn’t quite clicking, but William Carrier’s first career NHL goal was enough to take the game beyond regulation, especially thanks to Anders Nilsson’s stalwart performance.
The Swede was an absolute wall in net, stopping 46 of Pittsburgh’s 47 shots on net, including three huge stops in the shootout. Cal O’Reilly, who was called up from Rochester prior to the contest, scored the lone shootout goal to give Buffalo a very important win for the season.
4. March 25 vs. Toronto
There’s no buildup or context necessary for players and fans alike to get amped for a game between the Sabres and the Maple Leafs. It’s been a natural rivalry for years, only intensified now as Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel compete as two of the very best young stars in the league.
By March 25th, the Sabres had all-but fallen out of the playoff race, while Toronto was fighting for its first postseason berth in four years. This lead to an awful lot of Leafs fans filling KeyBank Center — a crowd that fueled Eichel and the Sabres to defend home turf.
The Sabres sent Toronto faithful home unhappy, taking control of the game in the second period and never looking back with three straight goals in eleven minutes that built a 5-2 lead, which proved insurmountable for the Leafs.
A viral gif emerged from the game of Eichel slamming into the glass before two front-row Leafs fans as he celebrated one of his two goals on the night.
— NHL (@NHL) March 26, 2017
His words following the contest resonated, just the same — “This is our building and obviously want to play well here. I think there was a little bit of extra emotion in our game tonight, extra intensity. And it’s good to see. It’s nice to beat them.”
3. January 21 vs. Montreal
The Sabres traveled to Montreal to face the rival Habs, and the result was a game that managed to top the thrills of the previous. These thrills didn’t come so much from the scoring, however. It instead came from perhaps the best displays of goaltending this year.
On the opposite end of the ice, Carey Price impressed even the most staunch Sabres supporters with a point-blank, windmill glove save on Rasmus Ristolainen just as regulation drew to a close.
— HabsHappy: JeSuisCH (@HabsHappy) January 22, 2017
Shortly into overtime, Robin Lehner got his own moment in the spotlight with a save that deserves to be in highlight reels for years to come.
Montreal neatly threaded the Sabres’ defense to allow Alex Galchenyuk a slapshot that seemed destined to find the back of an yawning Sabres net. But somehow, someway, Lehner hurled himself through the crease, arm outstretched, and snagged the puck in mid air, simultaneously fooling and stunning those in attendance at the Bell Centre.
Lehner’s incredible save was rewarded 17 seconds later during a Sabres rush when Zach Bogosian employed the basics and blasted a slapshot past Price to give Buffalo their second overtime win in as many nights.
2. January 24 vs. Nashville
The Sabres completed an overtime trifecta during their annual visit to Music City. This night, there was little to celebrate for defense or goaltending, aside from Robin Lehner being credited with an assist on the eventual game-winning goal.
This game was a brawl from start to finish, as both teams traded a total of eight goals across regulation. The Predators seemed to take command in the third period as they built a two-goal lead with just under ten minutes left to play, but the Sabres soon commenced an unthinkable comeback.
Captain Brian Gionta pulled the to within one with under six minutes left, and Kyle Okposo even things up with just over a minute remaining in regulation. A little bit past the midway point of Overtime, Jack Eichel took it upon himself to complete the rally. He glided through every Nashville’s defense and unleashed a thunderous wrister that beat Nashville netminder Juuse Saros, giving Buffalo arguably their signature win of the season.
1. January 7 vs. Winnipeg
This one was wild. The Sabres didn’t get off to the most inspired start, falling down 3-1 to the Jets during the second period and offering little resistance of their own.
The tide quickly turned in their favor early in the third with two goals from Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons, just twenty-six seconds apart.
The energy inside KeyBank Center swelled to a high shortly after the tying goal by Girgensons when Jake McCabe leveled Winnipeg rookie sensation Patrik Laine with a clean, but crushing open-ice check that knocked Laine out of the game.
The Jets–understandably–responded aggressively, but it was Buffalo would struck again, as Brian Gionta drove home his eighth goal of the season en route to a Sabres 4-3 comeback victory.