The Sabres emerged victorious by a 6-3 score in a high octane battle with the Los Angeles Kings at the KeyBank Center. Jack Eichel continued his impressive return, registering two goals and an assist.
Buffalo entered the contest tied for second last in the league in goals scored at 62.
Period one started off shaky for the Sabres as the Kings were able to take a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the contest.
Robin Lehner made the initial save on a shot by Anze Kopitar, but ended up pushing the puck into his own net. While the Sabres were able to register 10 shots on goal in the first, the Kings were clearly the better unit to start, maintaining excellent pressure in the offensive zone.
When Jeff Carter increased Los Angeles’ lead to 2-0, the wind was taken out of the home crowd. The script seemed all too familiar for the Buffalo faithful. The team came out flat at home versus a talented opponent. Though prospects appeared bleak, the key offensive players on the roster answered the bell, finishing the last half of the second period with four consecutive goals. Ryan O’Reilly got the scoring started with a top shelf back-hand shot if front of Peter Budaj.
“A little bit of anger from Ryan (O’Reilly), scoring that 1st goal, he sort of ignited us and we steamrolled from there.” Dan Bylsma stated in his postgame interview.
Soon after, young superstar Jack Eichel took a slow shot from the point that navigated its’ way past the Kings netminder to even the score at 2. The crowd erupted as the momentum shifted. Twelve seconds later, Captain Brian Gionta potted his seventh of the year to take the lead. Eichel would go on to score another before the end of the period allowing the Sabres to take a 4-2 lead into intermission.
The third period was toughly contested as Jeff Carter scored a softie on a shaky Robin Lehner. The goal was Carter’s second of the evening. In the last five minutes of the game, Evander Kane buried home an excellent pass from Eichel from behind the net to re-gain the two-goal advantage. Sam Reinhart sealed the deal with 26 seconds remaining with an empty net tally.
The Sabres did what good teams do. They recovered from a dreadful start and took over the game. The Kings were extremely vulnerable in net tonight saving less than 77% of shots faced between Peter Budaj and eventually Jeff Zatkoff. All season the Sabres have made mediocre goaltenders look like all stars and tonight was a nice change of pace.
Despite the victory, fans will inevitably continue to clamor for Anders Nilsson to see more playing time between the pipes. While Lehner certainly wasn’t awful, he allowed goals that simply need to be stopped. It must be noted that the defensive corps did very little to help Lehner, allowing point-blank opportunities for the first and early second period. Dan Bylsma was noted during the broadcast as extremely vocal behind the bench, attempting to pump his team up after the rough start.
This is the Sabres team that fans hoped to see this year. High octane offense against a good team. Now the onus is on the defensive units to pick up the slack. The return of Zach Bogosian from injury will go a long way in improving team play in their own zone.
Buffalo will take on the New York Islanders on Friday at the KeyBank Center. Faceoff is scheduled for 7pm EST.