Sabres play tough, lose in shootout

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The end result may have been a loss, but this year’s home opener felt like a world of difference.

Last season’s inaugural game at KeyBank Center was a staid affair, a listless game that came 24 hours after franchise cornerstone Jack Eichel went down in practice on a fluke injury.

The 2017-2018 season kicked off with appreciably more thrill. Two days prior, Eichel was signed to an 8-year deal, and on opening night inside KeyBank Center, the Buffalo Sabres battled the Montreal Canadiens all the way to wrong end of a 3-2 shootout loss.

“If we play like that, we can give ourselves a chance to win a lot of games & that’s what we have to build off of,” said Eichel post-game. “We did a lot of good things. There were times we controlled the pace. There are some things to clean up but lots to be positive about.”

On a night where ten new players were dressing in blue and gold, contributions were sure to come from fresh faces, but few could have anticipated Jason Pominville’s monstrous night in his return to Buffalo.

The population of Pominville got its first resident after eight and a half minutes played in the opening period. Newcomer Seth Griffith won a battle along the boards and threw the puck across the ice to a charging Pominville, whose graceful backhand beat Carey Price and give Buffalo their inaugural goal of the 2017-2018 season.

Pominville doubled up on his efforts in a hurry to start the middle frame, adding his second on the night after just 22 seconds played. Jack Eichel did a workman’s load to keep the puck in the Montreal zone, and Evander Kane before hurled pass at Pominville, who was camped adjacent to the Montreal net and tapped it past Carey Price.

A shoddy defense may have rightfully been the scapegoat for much of the Buffalo Sabres’ misfortunes last year, but no such blame could be placed on the blue line tonight. Robin Lehner spearheaded the defense with a fantastic performance in net, fending of 38 of Montreal’s 40 shots on the night.

Buffalo’s penalty never faltered, foiling all four power play advantages that the Canadiens were granted.

“We played with speed today, and we gave them problems. I think we can get in front of the net a little bit more, to create a little traffic, but all in all, I’m encouraged.” – Lehner

Montreal’s own penalty kill proved pivotal toward the game’s end result, with a short-handed goal that came in the third period as Phillip Danault somehow slipped the puck under Lehner’s skate on a wrap around.

The Canadiens’ earlier tally came in the final two minutes of the opening period. Ryan O’Reilly retreated into the Buffalo zone and whiffed on a pass, which Montreal gobbled up.  A few, more precise passes later by Canadiens leaves a wide open Max Pacioretty to shoot one under Robin Lehner’s as he crossed through the crease.

Nothing was more pivotal than the shootout, however, which continues to haunt the Sabres. Buffalo was 4-13 over the last two years going into tonight, and their record saw no improvement after all three skaters sent out failed to beat Carey Price. The lone shootout goal came from Jonathan Drouin, who faked out Lehner with a brilliant feint before tossing the puck top shelf to ultimately give Montreal the win.

Buffalo will now head out onto the road for a trip to Brooklyn, where they’ll meet the New York Islanders. That game is scheduled for a 7:00 PM EST puck drop from the Barclays Center.



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