Two games into the year and two very similar results. After falling to the Senators in the inaugural contest of the season 3-1, the Sabres couldn’t keep pace with the Lightning and went home with another loss, this time 4-1.
But not all can be seen from a box score. While there are clearly areas that need to progress throughout the season, improvements could be seen from game one to game two.
Buffalo put the pressure on the Stanley Cup contestants early and often. It was the likes of savvy vet Tyler Ennis, Jack Eichel and Marcus Foligno that notably kept attacking Lightning goalie Ben Bishop in the 1st period. The Sabres did a fantastic job keeping possession in the attacking zone for the first ten minutes or so of the game. In fact, Chad Johnson did not even record a save until around the 11 minute mark of the first period. That is quality possession time for a young club.
By the end of the 1st period each team had solid garnered up many opportunities, but neither squad could put one in the back of the net. The 2nd period changed all of that.
Erik Condra started the scoring for the Lightning 8:14 into the 2nd. He flipped in a shot from the point that got by a screened Johnson. This play started with Buffalo losing a defensive zone face-off. Tampa won the draw, shoveled it back to a drifting Condra who just put one on net. There was nothing spectacular about the play, and Condra was probably looking for a defelction. Two Sabres and a Tampa player were in the line of Johnson, who couldn’t find the puck until it was in the back of the net.
Nicolas Deslauriers knotted the score at one apiece when Sam Reinhart’s initial shot bounced right onto his backhand in front of the net. Deslauriers did a good job finding the puck and jamming it past Bishop. This seems to be something that D-Lo has been working on to improve. He scored twice in the preseason from the area right in front of the net, and is finding the bounces in front of the net.
“For me, I don’t have that skill to toe drag and get a good shot,” he said. “It’s just being right there, right in the blue paint and just wishing it comes on my stick and whack it in there.”
Unfortunately for the Sabres, that was the highest peak of the game. Looking content to go into the intermission with a 1-1 tie, that changed when Buffalo took a too many men penalty late in the period. It wasn’t a case of one guy getting on the ice a little before one got off. Buffalo had six skaters out there for an extended period. It looked to be Evander Kane who was on the wrong end of the miscommunication.
At the very end of the power play, Nikita Kucherov found the puck in the slot and ripped one past Johnson for the 2-1 lead with less than 30 seconds to go in the period. It was an absolute beauty of a shot, and Johnson didn’t have a great chance with his glove. Kucherov went top shelf, short side, and was one of the prettier goals so far in the early NHL season. It didn’t technically come on the power play, but the Sabres were yet to be back to full strength as Tyler Ennis was just getting out of the box for serving the penalty.
Superstar Steven Stamkos netted his first of the season in the 3rd period. Again, it was a tough play for Johnson. Ryan Callahan threw the puck at the net which then deflected off the post right in front of the net. Stamkos found it on his stick and ripped it past Johnson before he even had a shot. It was Rasmus Ristolainen in the passing lane and Jack Eichel on the backcheck, but neither could get a piece of the puck or Stamkos and the Canadian scored his first of what will be many this year.
J.T. Brown added the fourth and final goal for the Lightning with about 8 minutes to play.
Improvements were made early on which is one of the biggest keys of the team this year. Get better and better each game and it will be a successful season. Now is the point of finding consistency and chemistry on the ice. Coach Dan Bylsma shifted up the lines a little bit from the preseason, and will probably be something he does often. This young team hasn’t played with each other much and will need to gel. If that means playing with some other linemates to become more comfortable, that’s what Bylsma should do.
Buffalo will take the ice again Monday afternoon for some Columbus Day hockey with Columbus. The Blue Jackets come to First Niagara Center with a 3 p.m. puck drop.