Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
On a night when former Sabres and Flyers great Daniel Briere was honored for a stellar career in Philadelphia, with nods to his time in Buffalo, it was Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons who left a lasting impression at the Wells Fargo Center.
Girgensons took a chip pass from defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (who played for Philadelphia last season) and deposited a breakaway goal in overtime to give Buffalo it's third win of the season and first one on the road. It was Girgensons' first goal of the season, and first point of the season and was well deserved. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Z,” said forward Jamie McGinn of Girgensons. “I thought he played a great game. He hustled all over the ice, and he did a lot of good things. There were a lot of plays where he turned a 50-50 puck into a scoring chance.”
McGinn himself garnered his first goal of the season while Colaiacovo, Johan Larsson and Brian Gionta all hit the score sheet for the first time this season. “It’s been trouble for all these games, not just for me,” said Girgensons. “It’s nice for the guys to open up a little bit.”
The Sabres were playing without injured top-line winger Evander Kane who will be out 4-6 weeks and as witnessed by nine players hitting the score sheet, it was a total team effort. "It was a great team win," said Larsson who's two assists made him the only multi-point player on the night for Buffalo. “Everyone battled hard. Every line was rolling. We were shooting, going to the net, so I think this was our best game so far."
Larsson was at his agitating best last night filling in on the top line with rookies Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. He worked the corners, hounded the puck and when he buzzed the net he often felt a crosscheck or two from ticked off Flyers. You know he's on his game when the opposition is going after him in a fit of rage after the whistle and that's what he did last night. Although his linemates didn't benefit directly from his play, it took some pressure off of them and opened up the ice five-on-five.
While Girgensons and Larsson were on their game's all night, two rookies, Eichel and defenseman Jake McCabe, had to rebound from some rookie mistakes.
Eichel had an atrocious second period and was giving away the puck like candy at Halloween. During one stretch with Philadelphia applying intense pressure in the Buffalo zone, he sent a pass in the high slot right on Sam Gagner's stick. Chad Johnson made the save but the play continued. Later on in that shift he did it again, this time with two tired d-men. Franson was caught on the ice for over a minute while McCabe was fast approaching that mark. All-in-all the Flyers spent 1:43 in the Buffalo zone before Johnson stopped play with a nice glove save.
The 22 yr. old McCabe played a real strong game which included a nice break-up of a Flyers 2-on-1 as he sprawled and broke up the pass then immediately jumped to his skates and got the puck out of harms way. He tried the same move in the third period but Philly's Scott Laughton got around him and fed a hard-charging Brayden Schenn for the layup. However, as McCabe has shown throughout his young pro career, he has the propensity to bounce back from errors. With the score now tied at two, McCabe's seeing eye shot from the point would put the Sabres in front again only a minute and a half later.
Eichel would also rebound from that dreadful second period as he provided the screen on McCabe's goal. When WGR's Paul Hamilton asked Bylsma if he shook off the bad period, the coach emphatically nodded. "Yes. He needed to. He knew. The way he handled the puck, the way he turned over the puck, especially in the second period at that point in time. He knew it, he was disappointed [and] knew immediately.
"He shook it off, came back and was big for us in the third period."
All of this would have been for naught, however, had Johnson not come up huge in the OT session. With wide expanses of ice in the 3-on-3 session, odd-man rushes are the norm and goalies need to come up big. Johnson made a couple of nice stops before robbing Laughton from point blank with the inside of his blocker.
Thirty seconds later Girgensons ended it.
The much maligned (for some reason) Johnson played very well with 22 saves on 25 shots. Stats-geeks will point to a mediocre .909 sv% but on none of the goals was he at fault. Even the first one. With some Buffalo fans losing their minds thinking that he let in a softie, turns out that the shot by Philly's Chris VandeVeld was tipped ever so slightly by defenseman Mark Pysyk. The first B. Schenn goal was a layup while Schenn's second was a tip.
This was a fun game to watch (especially getting the win,) the type of game Briere would have loved to play in, and odds are that he would have risen to the occasion like Girgensons did if given the opportunity. He was at his best when things needed to be turned up a notch as evidenced by his 116 points (53+63) in 124 Stanley Cup playoff games.
Briere was honored by the Flyers having spent six full seasons in Philadelphia, but Buffalo was where he really found himself as a player. He and co-captain Chris Drury would lead what turned out to be the most exciting team of the "new-NHL" to consecutive eastern conference championship games. Briere really shined in Buffalo during the 2006-07 season when he scored 32 goals and added a career high 63 assists while helping drive that "Ferrari" Sabres team to a 10-0 start and an eventual President's Trophy.
It was only the second time that an NHL team had started the season 10-0 (1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs.) Ironically enough, the Sabres goalie from that team, Ryan Miller, was in goal for Vancouver last night as the 9-0 Montreal Canadiens were in town trying to match the mark for hottest start to the season. Miller and the Canucks were trying to stave off setting their own mark for futility at home to start the season. At 0-2-3, Vancouver matched their worst start at the Rogers Center since 1994-95.
Miller turned away 24 of 25 Canadiens shots and outdueled Montreal's Carey Price as the Canucks avoided that distinction with a 5-1 win. In doing so, Miller helped keep Montreal
from tying the 06-07 Sabres and 93-94 Leafs for best start in league history.
Kind of fitting.
Despite the fact that Game-1 of the World Series went 14 innings before the Kansas City Royals pulled it out over the NY Mets and the NBA was opening it's season, two Buffalo Sabres made ESPN's top-10 plays of the night.
Coming in at #6, was the Sabres first goal of the game by Tyler Ennis, who was on his stomach when he chipped one in from behind the goal-line.
Ennis has a flair for the acrobatic as shown here in ESPN's #2 highlight of 2014.
Johnson's highlight-reel save in overtime was second last night only to the Royals' Alex Gordon who belted a one-out homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score at four.
Missing from the highlights was Girgensons' overtime winner. Maybe ESPN didn't want a disproportionate number of hockey highlights with basketball starting and the World Series under way as the third hockey highlight, #9, was Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's turn-around paddle save on a puck inching towards the goal.
ESPN opted for highlighting a masterful overall 40-point performance from defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors guard, and 2015 NBA MVP, Stephen Curry.
Here's the Girgensons goal to which Bylsma said, "Tonight he went on the breakaway and we were actually talking about it, and how many goals last year he had on the breakaway which was six of[his [15 goals]. So when he got the puck I sorta started walking off the bench thinking "he's gonna find it. " And he did.