One goal for Sabres GM Darcy Regier during the offseason was to make the Sabres tougher to play against. He responded by bringing in Steve Ott and John Scott, getting rid of Derek Roy, and drafting size and grit down the middle in Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons.
Today, as the Sabres defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2, it would appear as though Regier's changes could pay big dividends.
The Sabres came out in their season opener with plenty of jam across the board, but the first sign that things might be different this season came when Drew Stafford fought Flyers
jerk pest forward Scott Hartnell after Hartnell threw Tyler Ennis into the boards from behind. Rather than wait for John Scott or Patrick Kaleta to take the ice, Stafford immediately took matters into his own hands, and held his own in a bout against the much more experienced Hartnell.
"Everyone in this lineup is trying to hold each other accountable to be harder to play against, and that falls into that category," said Stafford, who served as an alternate captain today. It was his first fight in three years. Other players took notice of Stafford's actions, including Cody Hodgson. "That was huge," said Hodgson. "It means a lot when someone like Drew drops the gloves."
Steve Ott's presence on the team was another immediately noticeable change. "This is a new team, and we got a lot of new faces here, guys are bringing sandpaper in rolls," said the new #9. Otter was credited with a team-high five hits, and his power play goal was a thing of beauty. He seemed to inspire his teammates to finish their checks, and gives the Sabres a dominant physical presence on each of their bottom three lines along with Marcus Foligno and Patrick Kaleta.
Other Sabres that should be noted for their physical play are some of the usual suspects - Foligno, Kaleta, and Robyn Regehr all threw their bodies around, and Tyler Myers used his large frame effectively as well.
As soon as the lockout ended, the Sabres distributed pocket-sized schedules to each of their players on a piece of sandpaper. It's only been one game, but at least for this one, it seems the players received that message loud and clear.