Half the season is down, and there’s no doubt that it’s an interesting ride thus far for the Buffalo Sabres and their fans. A shocking injury to franchise cornerstone Jack Eichel deflated much of the excitement at the start of the season, and the team has endured more than a couple of frustrating losing skids, but the boys in blue and gold still have shown plenty of promise, improvement and fight during the opening 41 games as they continue to battle for a playoff spot.
There’s been plenty of memorable contests played to this point, and we’ve got the top five games from the first half listed below:
5. October 16th, 2016 (Buffalo @ 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.
4. November 19th, 2016 (vs. Pittsburgh Penguins)
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.
3. November 29th, 2017 (@ Ottawa Senators)
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.
2. January 7th, 2017 (vs Winnipeg Jets)
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.
1. January 3rd, 2017 (@ New York Rangers)
In a year where the Sabres still have a ways to reach for a playoff spot, 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.