Buffalo Sabres Stun In Home Opener

Buffalo Sabres Stun
Photo by Ben Green/NHLI via Getty Images

The Buffalo Sabres stun in their home opener. Expectations for the Buffalo Sabres this season could not be lower. Their off-season was highlighted by a failed attempt to trade their star player, and signing a 40-year-old to be their starting goaltender. So you’ll have to forgive the hockey world for expecting a one-sided game as the Sabres opened their season at home against last year’s Cup Finals runner-up, the Montreal Canadiens. Local Sabres fans certainly expected a landslide Canadiens victory. An announced crowd of 8,467 turned out to watch the beginning of what many believed to be a season-long dumpster-fire.

They were certainly treated to a one-sided affair, but not the one they were expecting. The Buffalo Sabres played a great all-around game and came away with a stunning 5-1 victory. 5 different Sabres scored in what may be the most surprising result of the young NHL season.

The Game

From puck drop it was evident that the Sabres came ready to work. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Sabres were skating hard and putting pressure on Montreal early. The Canadiens took the game’s first penalty, with Cedric Paquette getting the gate for high-sticking. Bad penalties would be a theme of the night, with the Canadiens going to the box 6 times.

Buffalo went to work with the man advantage. Second-year center Dylan Cozens picked the puck up in the neutral zone and carried the puck into Montreal’s zone. After a pair of nice-looking passes, Kyle Okposo buried a shot from the half-wall. Though it was a relatively innocuous-looking shot, Rasmus Asplund provided a nice screen.

About 11 minutes later, Buffalo’s 4th line of Cody Eakins, Zemgus Girgensons, and Okposo went to work. The Sabres’ “roaring 20’s” line combined speed and physicality all game to force Montreal mistakes and generate offensive pressure. Eakins hustled to a loose puck in the corner and played it to the point. Girgensons was able to tip the ensuing Colin Miller shot past Sam Montembault, and the Sabres took a 2-0 lead.

Montreal answered back halfway through the second. Taking advantage of a tired Sabres 4th line, the Canadiens were able to work the puck from low to high before Chris Wideman knocked a rebound into an open net.

Montreal took three tough penalties in the second period, and Buffalo eventually capitalized. Following some terrific puck movement, noted power-play sniper Victor Olofsson put an absolute laser beam top shelf. Buffalo’s top PP unit was terrific, and having two dangerous snipers roaming both half-walls in Olofsson and Tage Thompson will give opposing penalty kill units trouble.

Buffalo closed out the second with yet another goal. Girgensons blocked a Canadiens shot, which led to a Buffalo 3-on-2. Completing an incredible shift, Girgensons joined the rush and put a heavy shot on net. Montembault left a juicy rebound, and Buffalo’s Anders Bjork put it home.

The Sabres would complete the scoring with yet another power-play tally. This time it was Thompson who sniped a bullet under the crossbar. The Sabres kept the effort up through the end of the game, giving Montreal little hope of spoiling Buffalo’s 5-1 victory.

Buffalo Sabres Takeaways

Effort was the name of the game for Buffalo. They know they are far from the most talented roster in the league. If they are going to have any success this season, they are going to have to out-work their opponents. And the Sabres did just that. Credit to head coach Don Granato for establishing the culture. Credit to the players for buying in as well. From puck drop to the final horn, the Buffalo Sabres were the hardest-working team. 

Craig Anderson also showed that age is nothing more than a number. At 40 years old, Anderson had a terrific night. Goaltending will be key as well, since the Sabres boast one of the youngest rosters in the NHL. Anderson will have to cover up for a lot of mistakes, and he showed he was up to the task Thursday night.

Montreal Canadiens Takeaways

After a strong start versus Toronto Wednesday night, the Canadiens have been thoroughly out-played for five and a half periods of hockey. The effort is just not there. The Canadiens consistently lost races to loose pucks, and took several dumb penalties. Playing back-to-back games where they had to sit through a pre-game ceremony does not help. But poor effort cannot become a trend.

The power-play is another concern for the Canadiens. They consistently had trouble gaining the offensive zone. Once there, they could not string two passes together before forcing a puck through a seam with a Sabre in it. Credit to Buffalo for filling those seams, but Montreal needs to stop forcing it. They have two dangerous snipers on their top unit in Cole Caufield and Tyler Toffoli. There is little reason for that unit to be struggling the way they are.

Final Thoughts

The Buffalo Sabres may surprise a lot of teams this year. Opposing teams will not take them seriously. If they consistently put forth efforts like this, the Buffalo Sabres could have a solid season. On the flip side, there is something wrong with the Montreal Canadiens. There is talent on that roster, but the effort is nowhere to be found. If they do not clean up their game soon, things will get tough in Montreal in a hurry.

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