Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-7-2017
Phil Housley missed a chance at his first win as a head coach on Thursday. The Buffalo Sabres had the lead in the season opener but couldn't hold on for their new coach. With Buffalo up 2-1 in the third period they found themselves on the powerplay and a goal there would have been beautiful despite all the "beware a two-goal lead" banter we've heard the past few years.
Montreal's Andrew Shaw went off for interference at the 7:19-mark of the third and Buffalo sent out it's No. 1 powerplay unit. Forty-two seconds later the Canadiens tied the score on a shorthanded wraparound goal by Phillip Danault. Not to take away anything from Danault, but it was a bad play all around for Buffalo as the skaters were weak on the backcheck and goalie Robin Lehner failed to seal off the post completely.
The teams were tied at the end of regulation and, much to the dismay of Sabres fans, the game headed to the shootout after a scoreless overtime session. Why the angst? Lehner in the shootout just hasn't worked out all that well as he's allowed eight goals on the last eight shot-against. However, there was some light at the end of the long, dark skills-competition tunnel. After Buffalo's Jacob Josefson' shot was blocked by Montreal's Carey Price, former Sabre Paul Byron clanked one off the post.
It was all for naught as the Canadiens Jonathan Drouin's lone score in the shootout gave Montreal the 3-2 win.
If you looked at the Buffalo players in the shootout and wondered where recently extended Jack Eichel was, well...he may have gone fourth had it gotten that far. His 1/9 shootout history superseded the drama of the moment in the eyes of Housley.
But that was the worst of it for the new coach when it came to his first game behind the bench. Housley had his team Sabres team skating hard and fast and creating shots from all over the place. In all the Sabres put the puck on net 45 times and had the Canadiens on their heels for much of the game. They succumbed to two mistakes in regulation, one by Lehner and Co. and one by Ryan O'Reilly.
Tonight the Sabres visit Brooklyn, NY to take on John Tavares and the NY Islanders. It wasn't all that long ago that the two teams last met. On April 2, of last season the Islanders headed to Buffalo fighting for a playoff spot and came away with a 4-2 victory. New York opened it's season last night in Columbus and proceeded to get smoked 5-0 so they should be ready to avenge that stinker as they head back to Brooklyn for their home opener tonight.
There was no morning skate for the Sabres today so we can assume that all lines and d-pairings are the same as they were on Thursday with one small change in the lineup. Matt Moulson, who's $5M salary is anything but small change, will replace Jordan Nolan on the fourth line. Of the move, Housley told the gathered media yesterday that he believes Moulson "is going to fit right in."
"I think Matt is a true goal-scorer," continued Housley, "he can bury the puck and hopefully he can bring that against his old team."
Nolan was very strong in his first game as a Buffalo Sabre as his line with Jacob Josefson and Johan Larsson put a lot of pressure on the Canadiens. Housley said yesterday after practice that "those guys pay attention to detail" and that he wasn't afraid to throw them out there for the many d-zone starts they ended up taking. Nolan and Josefson were also the top-pairing on a Sabres penalty-kill unit that killed all four Buffalo penalties.
On Thursday night special teams worked for the Sabres, as in addition to the 4/4 kill they also scored on 1 of 4 powerplay opportunities, however, that shortie against hurt.
As mentioned in the Sabres season preview, it will take some time for things to click. There's a new system in place and players need to adapt not only to Housley, but to their team mates as well. Buffalo started Thursday's game with 10 new faces, a franchise record for starting the season, according to Sabres PR. Conditioning seemed to be a factor last game and will also be a factor moving forward, at least for the near future. During the final half of the third period the Canadiens were ale to reign in the fast-skating Sabres and tighten the game up.
Buffalo also began last season with a loss to Montreal at home before immediately heading out on a Western Canada road trip. The early part of this season will also feature a West Coast road trip beginning Thursday October 12. They have the Islanders tonight at Brooklyn and play Nico Hischier, Taylor Hall and the New Jersey Devils in Buffalo on Monday before they hit the road to face San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
It would be nice if Housley can get his first head coaching win before then. Like, tonight.