Final Score: 6-4
At last, the ten-month long wait for Sabres hockey ended Thursday night, as Buffalo dropped their season opener to the Washington Capitals, 6 to 4.
A slow, sloppy opening 30 minutes led to Buffalo being down 4-1 with six minutes remaining in the second period, a deficit from which they couldn’t recover from. A late goal in the second by Tobias Rieder and an early goal in the third from Jake McCabe made things interesting, but an empty netter by Washington’s Garnet Hathaway sealed the victory for the Capitals.
On the bright side, Sabres fans got their first glimpse at the Taylor Hall-Jack Eichel duo, the fresh new royal jerseys and the first NHL point from rookie, Dylan Cozens.
⦁ The Rieder-Eakin-Cozens Line: A bright spot to the evening was the play of the Tobias Rieder-Cody Eakin-Dylan Cozens line. They played fairly well in all three zones of the ice, and Cozens recorded his first NHL point, assisting on Rieder’s goal.
⦁ Tage Thompson: Thompson looked solid in his first game back after missing a large chunk of last season with a shoulder injury. He made some nice plays in transition and looked quite strong on the puck in the offensive zone, assisting on Jake McCabe’s goal early in the third.
⦁ The Penalty Kill: The Sabres finished the night at a measly 50% on the PK, allowing one goal on two opportunities to Washington. If Buffalo is looking to succeed in the cut-throat East Division this season, the PK numbers will have to be much better. Albeit, it’s only the first game. Hopefully this begins to trend in a positive direction.
⦁ Dahlin-Montour pairing: While it was refreshing to see Krueger loosen the reigns and Dahlin lead the Sabres in ice-time, the Dahlin-Montour pairing had a night to forget. The pairing routinely allowed more chances than they were generating themselves and didn’t seem to have much chemistry. It’ll be interesting to see if Krueger keeps them together or is antsy to make some changes with each game bearing so much weight on the shortened schedule.
⦁ Team Passing: This is probably just a case of many players working out the kinks in their game due to a lack of preseason/training camp ice time, but the passing tonight seemed to be shaky. Also, Buffalo iced a healthy amount of new players tonight, so it could just be a lack of chemistry thus far. This trend should be back in the positives once the players get a few more games under their belts.
⦁ Taylor Hall tallied his first goal as a Sabre this evening, scoring on the powerplay in close to the net on a beautiful feed from Victor Olofsson. That goal evened the score at 1-1 midway through the 1st. Hall finished the night with two points, and 19:30 TOI.
⦁ Sabres 2019 1st round pick Dylan Cozens registered his first NHL point tonight, assisting on Tobias Rieder’s goal late in the second period. Cozens had an excellent debut in the Royal Blue, finishing with one point in a shade over 12 minutes of ice time.
⦁ Jeff Skinner finished in the bottom-five in ice time this evening, skating for just 14:31 on the fourth line. It seems as though once the game started to wind down, Krueger tended to lean on his other lines, leaving Skinner on the bench. Despite the decrease in ice-time, Skinner looked good in his role on the fourth line this evening. He generated a pretty sweet rush that ended up in a scoring chance, and tallied two shots in 14:31 of ice time. Hopefully he can watch that increase in the coming games.
⦁ At times in this contest, Buffalo looked quite exhausted and seemed to be outskated by the Capitals. Perhaps this is nothing more than shaking out the cobwebs after a 311 day hiatus between games, but it’s still a small cause for concern moving forward.
Eric Staal Injury:
Sabres forward Eric Staal left tonight’s game after receiving an elbow to the head from Washington’s Nic Dowd at center ice. Staal was quite slow to get himself up off the ice and skated straight to the dressing room, and did not return.
Sabres Coach Ralph Krueger was asked during his post-game press conference if there was any update on Staal:
Hopefully for Buffalo’s sake, Staal was just shaken up. Any sort of longer-term injury would not bode well for the Sabres, and would certainly force Krueger to make some difficult decisions while juggling the lines.
The Sabres will have little time to rest, as they take on the Capitals in the second leg of a back-to-back homestand, Friday night at 7 P.M. Look for Linus Ullmark to make his season debut and to hopefully see Eric Staal back healthy in the lineup sooner rather than later. Buffalo will then have the weekend to rest up, as they travel to Philadelphia to battle the Flyers Monday night. Game time for that contest is 7:30pm EST.