At the end of the second week of the NHL season, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves three points and a 1-3-0-1 record while slotted in last place in the MassMutual East Division.
On Sunday, the Sabres had a chance to gain two points against a depleted Washington Capitals team, who did not have the players of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov.
It was a night of firsts for the Sabres, as they saw three new players score their first goals with the organization. Eric Staal opened the scoring on a back door feed from Victor Olofsson, who stole the puck from Capitals defensemen Zdeno Chara. Washington answered right back with two straight goals from Nicklas Backstrom and Nic Dowd.
The Buffalo Sabres kept the pressure on, as eventually, rookie forward Dylan Cozens was able to fire a laser behind Vitek Vanecek, this being the first of his NHL career. The young rookie scanned the ice to see his options and eventually fired it right into the mesh and showed great awareness while conducting the play. The Capitals again answered the bell when forward Jakub Vrana beat goalie Linus Ullmark, this giving Washington the lead over Buffalo.
Then in the third period, Riley Sheahan made a great play along the side of the net, beating Washington’s defence and Vitek Vanecek, this tying the game up at three apiece. That’s the score it would stay at for the rest of regulation. In overtime, the Sabres started shorthanded, thanks to a penalty in the game’s final seconds from Buffalo defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen. Buffalo was able to kill off the penalty, which sent the two out from overtime into a shootout. Unfortunately, the Sabres were unable to score on Vanecek, who in the win, improved to 2-0 so far this season when taking on Buffalo.
In what seemed like a promising first two periods for the Sabres Tuesday night against the Flyers, the Sabres could not seem to find the back of the net against veteran Brian Elliott and Philadelphia.
After a well played, 6-1 win against the Flyers on Monday night, Brian Elliot, who entered in relief of goalie Carter Hart, shut the door and earned a 40 save shutout win. Early on in the first period, the Sabres had a five-on-three advantage, in which they failed to capitalize, which saw forward Victor Oloffson fail to convert on a wide open net, which would have given Buffalo the lead.
Carter Hutton was playing outstanding up until he was knocked out of the game by an elbow from Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia defensemen. Jonas Johansson entered the game in the third period and faced nine shots, where he made eight saves. Hutton, as of now, is listed day-to-day and will evaluated later in the week.
Sabres forwards Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall, who share the league lead in points, were also held off the scoresheet despite their repeated attempts. In four games thus far, Eichel has six assists while failing to register a goal. Hall has only one goal, which was scored in the season opener on the power play against Washington.
A big question so far early in the young season has been Jeff Skinner. Skinner hoped to have a bounce back year after falling in the scoring category in 2019-20. Fans had hoped to see Skinner on the first line with Hall and Eichel, but were surprised to see him skating with Curtis Lazar and newcomer Riley Sheahan.
Head coach Ralph Kruger stated that Skinner must “play within the principles” of the team. Tuesday night showed a re-vamped Skinner get multiple scoring chances and could have easily recorded two goals. He chipped in on the forecheck, created chances stealing the puck and threw his body around for a couple of checks. Towards the end of the game, we saw him move up on the second line with Eric Staal and Victor Oloffson.
A bright spot during the young season, though, is forward Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres. Reinhart has played some of his best hockey so far, certainly with the help of being on Eichel and Hall’s line, of course. But, one thing that Reinhart is starting to do more is shoot the puck with confidence. Whether that’s a shot in the slot, or playing the point on the power play, or taking a one-timer in Eichel’s office, he is starting to feel more comfortable shooting the puck.
Look, the season is young, they are four games into a shortened season in which they were off for 10 consecutive months. This included a shortened camp and no pre-season matchups. The goals will come, the power play will start to convert, the goaltending, which has been an issue for the Sabres for several years, will have to get better in order for the team to make the playoffs in a talented and skilled MassMutual East Division.