Sabres fizzle out in season opening loss to the Canadiens

Buffalo Sabres Nathan Beaulieu (82) celebrates a goal with Jason Pominville (29) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Thursday Oct. 5, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Jason Pominville earned the second loudest cheers when introduced Thursday night at KeyBank Center.

He then sent Blue & Gold faithful into a frenzy with goals in the first and second period — but it wasn’t enough in his return to Buffalo, or new Head Coach Phil Housley’s as the Sabres struggled down the stretch in a 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal.

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Shootouts where not kind to Robin Lehner last season, who went 0-8.  As Paul Byron skated up — his attempt clanked off the the post.  Lehner didn’t get anything on it. Lucky, but still not a confidence booster for the netminder.

“I didn’t stop it. It hit the post. It’s no secret I struggled last year with it. I’m trying to move forward. It takes some guts to get out of this hole in the shootouts. I can’t pout about it, i’m working on it, it’s not working yet but hopefully it’ll come.”

Leading 2-1 and with a two man advantage in the third period, the Sabres power play unit broke down, played sloppy and as a result Phillip Danault netted a short handed goal to tie things up.

“I think we let our foot off the gas and let them take it to us a little there,” Jack Eichel, who was named an assistant captain before the game said.   “It’s a fluky goal and I bet we all want to have it back. It’s something we’re going to clean up and continue to work on and get better.”

“People can say whatever they want about it. It’s a fast play and I get there with my skate and he goes up on it and it goes off my pad and it goes in,” Lehner said after the loss.  “It happens in a split second and it’s frustrating. It’s a lucky goal.”

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The shorthanded goal was the only real blemish for Lehner, who is playing on a one-year prove it deal with the Sabres.  The Canadiens first goal of the night was in large part due to an uncharacteristic turnover by Ryan O’Reilly.  Jonathan Drouin slipped the puck cross ice to Max Pacioretty, who buried the easy one timer to tie things up at 1.

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Eichel’s night was highlighted with a tape-to-tape laser to Pominville in the second period, as the forward connected for his second goal of the night — giving the Sabres a 2-1 lead and sending fans into a frenzy.

“I think it was pretty special moment from the reception at the start, the first goal and then the second goal. It was a special night. It would have been nice to hit the net in the shootout and win the game,” Pominville said.  “(Eichel) was in a good spot and lost this defender. He saw me before he even got the puck and we both knew what we were doing and he made a great play.  Not many guys can make that pass, and he did.”

On the bench for the first time when it counts, Housley said he was disappointed in the results, but said there is plenty to build upon.

“We looked fast, we played fast and have to continue to do that,” he said.

Next up for the Sabres is a trip to New York Islanders on Saturday. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.

NOTES

Slow Start

The Sabres were outshot 6-0 in the opening five minutes of the game. That’s not good — and it was something Housley touched on in the final preseason game where he said “it has to change.”

It didn’t — at least in the first game —  but Buffalo answered back before a lull in the final minutes of the opening frame.

In the second and third period the Sabres outshout the Canadiens — which is good considering Housley wants them to have a “shooting mindset.”

Rule Changes

There were several rules changes the league made an effort to emphasize in the preseason and theyrefs are continuing to enforce faceoff infractions and slashing penalties in the early going.

Evander Kane was the victim of both, earning a delay of game minor penalty in the first period and then was slapped with slashing penalty in the second.  The slash was the most egregious — you could hear his stick whack a Canadiens player in the press box.

Robin Lehner

Outside of the shorty he gave up, Lehner was the reason the Sabres were in this game.  He made an incredible stop in the first period to turn away Drouin, turned away Max Pacioretty on the rush in the second and then came up huge with a big pad save (which was reviewed and upheld) in the third.

One bad goal was the difference tonight — it’s a goal fans have groaned about the past two seasons.

Sam Reinhart

Sam Reinhart is playing for a new contract next summer and even though he was kept off the scoresheet, he was impressive and he made his presence known Thursday night.

He created a great chance for Buffalo in the second, forcing a turnover and feeding Zemgus Girgensons.

He had a few good scoring opportunities himself —  at point blank range but was turned away by Carey Price. If he’s able to finish, and provide additional scoring as the Sabres third line centerman as Housley expects, big things could be in store for Reinhart in the Summer on 2018.

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