Published by hockeybuzz, 10-14-2016
It wasn't what fans hoped for when they piled into the newly christened KeyBank Center for yesterday's opener. The Sabres went into the contest with a solid record in home openers (17-8-4) and have gone 3-0-2 when the Montreal Canadiens have been the opponent. Buffalo came out of the game on the wrong end of a 4-1 score and lost yet another key player as Evander Kane went crashing hard into the boards. He left the game hunched over with help but was stretchered to the hospital for observation.
The Sabres faced a Montreal team that underwent a philosophical makeover this summer highlighted by the shocking trade of defenseman PK Subban for Shea Weber, both of whom had been very productive, highly valued d-men for their respective teams. The trade of Subban left many scratching their heads but Montreal GM Marc Bergevin was intent upon changing the make up of a fast yet smaller Habitants lineup. Out went the panache of Subban and in came the big, gritty Weber.
Prior to that Draft-Day trade, Bergevin had sent two second-round picks to the Chicago Blackhawks for checking forward and noted pest, Andrew Shaw. Bergevin also extended rumbling top-nine forward Daniel Carr over the summer and had still had hard-hitting Alexi Emelin wreaking havoc on the ice with big, sometimes borderline hits.
Emelin was the man checking Kane last night when the Sabres forward went into the wall at almost full speed. There was no call on the play and it didn't look as if there should have been either. With Kane a bit off-balance as he was trying to drive to the net, Emelin gave him a nudge in the faceoff dot that put him on the ice and into the boards. Emelin was also a beast on the ice hitting everything around him as he usually does.
Buffalo really had no one to counter him.
Regardless of them being shorthanded with the absence of Jack Eichel, Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov, there seemed to be a lack of conviction when countering Montreal's rough stuff and that included the Carr goal where he whacked goalie Robin Lehner on the play. Captain Brian Gionta, the smallest player on the ice for Buffalo did get a cross check in out of anger, but Carr could care less as his hands went up in celebration of the goal by Shaw.
Perhaps the Sabres were taken by surprise with the new-look Canadiens. They still had the speed and they still have skilled players like Brendan Gallagher who scored two goals last night, but this incarnation of Les Habitants had teeth. Buffalo for the most part did not.
Or, maybe, the Sabres were thrown off by losing Eichel to injury the day before. If that's the case, they need to get over it as he could be out until December. No doubt Okposo and Kulikov, both of whom are expected to play on the up-coming road trip, would have helped, but players need to step up.
Now with Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma announcing that Kane has three cracked ribs as a result of the crash, Buffalo will be without another top-six forward "for weeks."
The Sabres don't play until Sunday when they face off against the Edmonton Oilers to kick off a three-game Western Canada swing so they'll have time to integrate Okposo, who's expected to play, and possibly Kulikov into the lineup. But they'll also need to find their inner conviction.
There were players like Marcus Foligno and Nicolas Deslauriers throwing their bodies around like they always do. And Johan Larsson was being a pest as he always is, but that's now what was lacking last nigh. They needed more conviction to go hard to the net for rebounds. Way to often in two-plus periods it was one-shot-and-done for Buffalo. They showed better later in the game but it was way too late and they still weren't able to beat back-up goalie Al Montoya after scoring their only goal.
It was a painful opener all around last night, but redemption lies right around the corner in Edmonton. Who's in the lineup and how the team will respond remains to be seen.
As of right now there were no call-ups to Buffalo as Rochester has their opener tonight. The Amerks have three in a row this weekend: Tonight vs. the Hershey Bears (WSH) and a home-and-home with the Syracuse Crunch (TBL) Saturday and Sunday. Five players were sent to Elmira (ECHL) leaving the following Rochester roster:
Forwards: Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, William Carrier, Dan Catenacci, Eric Cornel, Jean Dupuy, Tyson Fawcett, Vaclav Karabacek, Justin Kea, Matthew Lane, Daniel Muzito-Bagenda, Alexander Nylander, Cal O’Reilly, Evan Rodrigues and Cole Schneider.
Defensemen: Brady Austin, Mac Bennett, Erik Burgdoerfer, Justin Falk, Taylor Fedun, Paul Geiger, Brycen Martin and Tyson Strachan.
Goalies: Jason Kasdorf, Linus Ullmark
Puck drop is at 7:05 p.m. with pre-game festivities beginning at 5:00 p.m. for Amerks season ticket holders.
GM Tim Murray signed a multi-year contract extension with the Sabres yesterday. No terms of the deal were disclosed. At a pregame presser Murray, who's in the final year of his contract, said that there had been casual conversations but nothing they'd been meeting on "It just all came together the last couple of days," he said to the gathered media.
Murray has been with the Sabres since Jan, 2014. He finished tearing down the roster he inherited and has been completely in charge of Buffalo's rebuild with nothing but support from upper management and ownership. "I've felt great here," he said, "[ownership] has been very supportive. I can't think of one time I went to them with an idea where they said no or even questioned [it]."
When asked if he'd be in the trade market to try an replace the loss of Eichel, Murray said no and that Eichel's nor replaceable anyway. "I want to see how it goes here. We've got to try this internally.
"I'll use all the clichés you want, opportunity for somebody else, but we know somebody's not going to come in and be Jack so we've got to be a real team here. We've got to tighten up defensively, we've got to get good goaltending. These are the clichés I said I'm going to use. If it's clearly not working I've got to get on the phone and make some calls."
From Sabres PR, the lines and d-pairings from this mornings practice: