It was more than a new season for the Buffalo Sabres, tonight was the beginning of a new era. The Jack Eichel era, the Tim Murray era, the anti-tanking era - whatever you wanted to call it, the season opener for Buffalo was supposed to mark the start of somethihng new, and something different.
Unfortunately, for the first 40 minutes, it looked like more of the same.
The Sabres struggled out of the gate, getting outshot by Ottawa 18-13, and none of their 13 shots looked very dangerous as they fell behind 2-0 though two periods. But we're getting ahead of ourselves - the pregame ceremony and ovations on the player introductions were a nice moment for those who suffered through the last three seasons, and the hype and crowd energy was at FNC Maximum right before puck drop.
And before you knew it, the game started - with huge cheers for the Sabres!...until Kyle Turris opened the scoring for the Senators just 30 seconds into the game, bringing back sour memories of seasons past. Unfortunately for Sabres fans, the #NextChapter got off to a start that strongly resembled the #PreviousChapter as Buffalo struggled to string together any semblance of offense through the first two periods.
That will happen when a team has nine players making their organizational debut, and a new coach with a new system to boot. There were flashes of talent - Evander Kane showed most often - but overall this looked like a team that had just come together last week. Which, essentially they are. Compare that to a Senators team that is basically the same as last season, and the Sabres just looked like they were two steps behind Ottawa for the first 40 minutes of the game.
Things looked even more dire when starting goalie Robin Lehner was helped off the ice after suffering a lower body injury. Lehner did not return, and was seen leaving the arena on crutches wearing a boot on his left foot.
The third period, however, showed a bit more of what this Sabres team will hopefully become this season. A feisty, hard-working, dangerous squad capable of providing offense from a number of different players on the ice. Chief among them in the eyes of Sabres fans - Jack Eichel. Everyone kept waiting for the #2 pick to make his impact felt on the game, and he did in the third period.
Watch this goal, then watch it again. Then watch it a third time. And then, watch it until your eyeballs fall out and imagine another 10-15 years of this.
Jack Eichel scores in his first career NHL game. Snipe. pic.twitter.com/N8WvNn2zEB— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) October 9, 2015
The pass, the positioning, the patience, and by god, that shot. If this is a sign of things to come this season, sign me up. Also sign me up for the team's new goal song, which finally debuted after Eichel scored.
The fact that it was followed up by Evander Kane's tying goal just moments later just made all our trepidation from the first two periods melt away...until Kane's goal was overturned on a coach's challenge, thanks to Zemgus Girgenson's skate being two inches offside. I realize this comes off as whining because the call went against the Sabres, but does anyone out there honestly like coach's challenges in any sport - football, baseball, and now hockey? It completely stopped the flow of the game, and took away any excitement or momentum the Sabres may have had. We'll see how it feels when a call benefits Buffalo, but after two days of challenges in the NHL, I personally can't stand it.
Once play resumed, the Sabres had their fair share of chances, but couldn't re-tie the game, and ended up losing 3-1 on an empty netter. While tonight wasn't the best debut for the new era of Sabres hockey - the players will clearly need time to gel with so many new pieces in play - tonight offered a tantalizing glimpse of the future. Eichel, Kane, Pysyk, Girgensons, and Ristolainen all stood out at times, and once this team starts playing like one, I think we'll be in for some exciting hockey.
Until next game, leave us your thoughts in the comments.