Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A collective sigh of relief in Sabreland as Buffalo gets first win

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-16-17

The Buffalo Sabres got their first win of the season last night in Anaheim against a Ducks team that was depleted but still feisty. Buffalo's Phil Housley finally got his first win as an NHL head coach after five unsuccessful tries. "It feels great," said Housley to the gathered media post-game before "tipping his hat" to his players.

Buffalo gutted this one out as Anaheim, even without the likes of Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, just would not surrender after falling behind in the first period. The Ducks came at Buffalo hard in the second period and did so in the third as well. The Sabres, however, weathered those storms allowing only one goal.

Sabres goalie Chad Johnson was rock solid in net making some great saves, most notably in the second period, which included flashing the leather on a couple of occasions. One in particular came early in the second as Anaheim had a great opportunity on a 3-on-2 break with the Sabres up 1-0. Johnson did have a scary moment a bit later as he fell to the ice behind the net with the puck heading to the slot. Defenseman Marco Scandella bailed him out as he got a piece of Nick Ritchie's shot.

In addition to Housley's first career win and Johnsons' first win of the season, there were plent of positives from last night. Justin Bailey, who'd just been called up from Rochester got his first goal of the season only 1:26 into the game. Some hard work by a forechecking Zemgus Girgensons and a pinching Nathan Beaulieu, who recorded his first point as a Buffalo Sabre, set the wheels in motion on that one.

Forward Sam Reinhart may have played his best game of the season and was originally credited with the Sabres second goal before the NHL changed it. Benoit Pouliot got credit instead and notched his first goal of the season as well as his first as a Sabre. Johan Larsson notched his first point of the season (on the Bailey goal) and added an empty-netter for his first goal of the season.

Buffalo's Jack Eichel was named the games first star and he didn't even hit the scoresheet. Those watching Eichel was strong on the backcheck and seemed to be all over the defensive zone.

And as a team, the Sabres held firm on four penalty kills while continuing the Ducks misery on the powerplay as Anaheim has yet to score with the man advantage (0 for 21.)

Amidst the joy of Housley and his team's first win of the season plus the other first's that occurred, there were some blemishes.

Forward Evander Kane is tied for the team lead in points and goals but also leads them in minor penalties with six, which is tied for tops in the league. He had a critical tripping penalty very late in the game against the LA Kings on Saturday night which lead to a game-winning powerplay goal by the Kings' Drew Doughty. Last night he took three minor penalties, two for slashing under the new NHL crackdown.

The Sabres also allowed another shorthanded goal as Anaheim's Chris Wagner went in on a breakaway after Buffalo fumbled the puck at the Ducks blueline. It's the fifth shortie given up by the Sabres this season which leads the league. With the Wagner goal against, the Sabres surpassed last year's total of four shorties given up for the entire season.

Buffalo heads to Las Vegas with the monkey finally off of their back. In Anaheim not only did they find their first win, but they also found secondary scoring and some individual players are starting to come to life. In addition to Reinhart, Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly seems to have found his legs.

Right wing Kyle Okposo, who was downed by an illness for two of the three games on this road trip should be back in the lineup against the Golden Knights. However, fourth-line center Jacob Josefson was felled by a hit from behind in the second period and did not return. The journeyman forward had been playing very well as of late but may have suffered an ankle injury from the hit.

The Sabres have the bodies to replace Josefson, especially if Okposo returns as is expected, but Matt Moulson and Seth Griffith have only one point between them (a Griffith assist) and are a combined minus-6 in nine total games. Buffalo flew in Bailey for the Anaheim game and a player like Rochester's Kevin Porter might be appealing since the Amerks are off until Friday.

Despite the joy of that first win, the Sabres need to follow it up with another against an injury-riddled Vegas expansion team that lost starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Malcom Subban, whom Vegas claimed off of waivers from the Boston Bruins less than two weeks ago, got the call yesterday and proceeded to beat his former team. But even with the one goal allowed against the Bruins, Subban still has a 3.45 GAA and .841 Sv% in three NHL starts.

This is a no-brainer. If the Sabres really want to start moving forward with this season, it begins with a win in Las Vegas against the expansion Golden Knights.

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