Stop me if you've heard this one before.
The Buffalo Sabres opened their season tonight against Columbus with an eye on improvement after an awful campaign in 2013-14. However, they were outgunned, outshot, and outscored 3-1 by the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight, and the only thing keeping it that close were the mostly stellar play of their goaltender, who made a few fantastic saves that stymied the opponent's numerious odd-man rushes.
Sound familiar? It should, because that was the storyline for the Sabres last season, and if tonight is any indication, we'll be seeing much more of the same from the blue and gold this year.
But before we dive too far in to melancholy, let's give them credit, as the Sabres came out of the gate with a bang - their botched pre-game ceremony notwithstanding. The top line of Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, and Drew Stafford dominated the first minute, the home crowd was fired up, and the Sabres controlled play for the first six minutes of the game. It was then that they took their first penalty (Josh Gorges) and while the team - including newly minted PK-er Tyler Ennis - successfully killed it off, the Sabres never quite regained that momentum they had at the start. Ted Nolan's squad would go on to lose the Corsi battle in the first by an incredible -21, surely a tribute to last year's team.
The second period started like so many do in Buffalo, with both teams looking like they were wearing cement skates. It took more than six minutes for the Sabres to record a shot, and over thirteen minutes until Columbus would finally break the scoring drought when Jack Skille rocketed a shot past Jhonas Enroth. And by rocket, I mean rocket - the shot was hard enough to literally disintegrate Enroth's water bottle, pieces of which went flying all over the ice. "It was a pretty good shot," said an apparently unimpressed Enroth.
The Sabres would strike back later in the second on a beauty of a goal from Zemgus Girgensons. The Latvian Locomotive took a pass from Marcus Foligno and steamrolled past Jack Johnson, held on to the puck for that crucial extra second, and flipped a shot over Sergei Bobrovsky's shoulder to tie the game. It was the second time in as many season that Girgensons, who later said he didn't remember much about the goal, scored the first tally of the year for Buffalo.
The third period saw some good chances, including Sam Reinhart's only noticeable play of the game on a rush with Cody Hodgson, but the Sabres continued to shoot themselves in the foot, as 2-on-1's were broken up, and power plays were nullified by Brian Gionta penalties. Their lack of possession would come back to haunt them in the third period, as Cam Atkinson snuck a soft shot underneath Enroth's left arm to give Columbus the 2-1 lead. Artem Anisimov would add another in the third to seal the deal.
In the end, the Sabres were outshot 40-22, a similar number from many of last year's losses. Some of that is the talent divide, but some was a nervousness that seemed to knock pucks off sticks, force a moment of hesitation, or some bad choices on the rush. Ted Nolan mentioned needing more North-South passes rather than East-West passes as one example, but the Sabres will need to look sharper on Saturday to avoid a blowout in Chicago.
The man everyone was watching tonight - Sam Reinhart - did not have a great game in his NHL debut. He didn't make any glaring mistakes, but he also didn't really make any plays that stood out, and was very tentative on the ice in most situations. Playing these games is good for him, because he needs to realize the level of power and skating ability needed to excel at the NHL level, and when not to make cross-ice passes (hint: never). Reinhart was only 4-15 on faceoffs, and recorded no shots in 13:37 of ice time.
"He was okay for an 18-year-old," said Ted Nolan, adding, "He'll get the chance to do it again against Chicago, then there's Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose. He's got to understudy and understudy quick." San Jose would be the ninth game on the Sabres schedule, so it appears Reinhart will get at least the full nine-game tryout to make a bigger impression than he made tonight.
Thanks to all of you who joined us in the game thread tonight - which was a blast - and let's hear your thoughts on the first of 82 games for the Sabres this season.