Sunday afternoon’s 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche was essentially the antithesis of everything that had plagued the Sabres during much of a recent 0-2-2 skid, and, to an extent, during their 6-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
There was no slow start this time; even the near 0-degree temperature that fell across much of Buffalo couldn’t cool down the Sabres. Buffalo got off a blistering start, scoring twice in under five minutes (and on their first two shots, no less) to chase Colorado netminder Semyon Varlamov to the bench. They added a third tally toward the end of the period, and were able to find the empty net late in the third period to solidify the victory.
Jack Eichel finally found his way back to the scoreboard after a six-game drought, and he couldn’t have done it in any more impressive fashion. His rink-wide play that lifted the First Niagara Center spectators out of their seats has already gone viral on social media, and for good reason.
Ryan O’Reilly may not have found the back of the net on his own, continuing a scoring drought of his own that goes back to January 10th, but he didn’t seem too upset with it postgame as he was lauded for adding two pivotal assists in the contest, which gives him nine in the month of February, alone. With 30 assists to his name thus far on the season, O’Reilly is closing in on his career high total of helpers at 38, which he earned last year with the Avalanche.
Probably the happiest guy to see the Sabres loading up the scoreboard was netminder Robin Lehner, who made a dramatic rebound with a 34-save, one-goal outing. Lehner had more than struggled in his previous two starts, letting in nine goals against the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers; he was also on the wrong end of that frustrating overtime loss to the Boston Bruins that featured the inexplicable penalty shot given to Brad Marchand.
But for all the shots he gave up in those losses, Lehner also didn’t get much support from the boys playing front of him. Prior to Sunday’s matchup with the Avalanche, the Sabres had only scored 11 goals while Lehner was in net; they only managed to score two goals or more twice with him in between the pipes. For them to strike four different times, even with one being an empty-netter, certainly must have provided some relief to the twenty-four-year-old Swede.
The game against the Avalanche showed off the continuations of a few trends, of course, both the good and bad kind. Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart both tallied goals, marching along to their own successful seasons. It seems like Kane is beginning to put previous injuries completely behind him, as he’s now scored seven times in 12 games. Reinhart’s 17 goals on the season has him in a three-way tie for most goals on the team alongside Eichel and O’Reilly; for a kid who spent the majority of last season playing in the Juniors, Reinhart’s accomplishments this year are a sign of tremendous improvement.
The Sabres’ power play wasn’t too sharp on Sunday, and it hasn’t been for a little while. It’s only 2-for-21 in the last handful of games, a definite drop after running strong for the duration of the season.
For a team that won just its 12th home game, though, we’ll call Sunday a mighty fine step in the right direction.