Sabres entertained their fans; won first game of 2021-22 season


Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – While there was just over 8,000 fans in the building for opening night on Thursday, they sure sounded like 19,000, as they thoroughly enjoyed - what could be - the new and improved Buffalo Sabres.

The Sabres came out fast and never looked back, pasting the Montreal Canadiens in Buffalo, 5-1.

It was the line of Kyle Okposo, Zemgus Girgensons and Cody Eakin that got things started. From their very first shift, they were hard on the forecheck and never let Montreal out of its zone. The trio had a four-point night, with Okposo and Girgensons celebrating their captaincies with goals.

Right before Buffalo's first goal, Jeff Skinner buried a slap shot right into the shin pads of former Sabres first round pick Joel Armia. That sent Jake Evans in on a shorthanded breakaway, forcing Craig Anderson into a huge save, his first with the Sabres. That's what’s been missing from this team for 10 years. The big save at the big time.

Less than a minute later, Okposo fired a wrister from the right circle on the power play that wasn’t screened, and a shot that Canadiens goalie Sam Montembeault would want back.

The mayhem from the Eakin line that was exciting the fans and the Sabres bench just kept on going for the rest of the period.

Before the first ended, Eakin got in on the forecheck and worked the puck back to Colin Miller. He ripped a shot towards the net, and where was Girgensons? Right where goals are scored, in front of the net. His tip made the score 2-0 going into the intermission. Just before that goal was scored, Okposo hit the post with a great chance and then put on two big hits against the wall.

Early in the second period, there was another moment of truth.

Penalties to Henri Jokiharju and Eakin put the Sabres down two men for 26 seconds. Girgensons, Miller and Robert Hagg were fantastic on the penalty kill, with Hagg blocking one of Cole Caufield’s rockets. Even on the 5-on-4, Anderson stopped Caufield twice, as he was ripping one-timers from the left circle.

The only goal to beat Anderson was one of the few times all night the Sabres lost coverage, leaving defenseman Chris Wideman wide-open for a layup.

Even after Wideman scored to make it 2-1, I never once sensed that the Sabres were in trouble. They stuck to Don Granato’s game plan of taking the play to the Canadiens and playing fast.

Before the second period was over, Buffalo cashed in for its second power play goal of the game. It wasn’t a patented Victor Olofsson one-timer, but he ripped a wrist shot that, again, Montembeault would want back.

Anders Bjork used his speed to get to the net to score his first of the season, giving the Sabres a 4-1 lead heading into the third.

Tage Thompson scored Buffalo’s third power play goal of the night in the third period, and the fans saluted the team’s effort both then and after the game.

Buffalo went 3-for-6 on the power play, while the penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4.

This was Hagg’s first game since being acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers as part of the Rasmus Ristolainen trade. He finished the game with six blocked shots in 19:41 of work. Granato spread the ice-time evenly, as only Miller got to 20 minutes, playing 20:28.

Unfortunately for Casey Mittelstadt, an upper-body injury took him out of this game after playing just 9:07. Granato will be updating his status on Friday.

In the end, yes, this was only one game. This team has spent the whole offseason telling us that they believe fully in each other and they will play for each other and be a better team. The first 60 minutes of the season totally proved their point. They definitely look to be a better hockey team.

But Thursday night doesn’t matter when the puck drops just after 1 p.m. ET on Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes. They know they’ll have to show it all over again, but they won’t take offense to that. They’ll go out and have fun playing a game that recently had been drudgery for them.

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