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Sabres open season with strong effort, win

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Sheary scores twice in 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A strong all-around effort led the Buffalo Sabres to their first victory in a season-opening game since 2012. Powered by a pair of goals from Conor Sheary and a 28-save performance from Carter Hutton, the Sabres beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Thursday evening.

Sheary, along with linemate Casey Mittelstadt, was a treat to watch on Thursday. The duo combined for two of the Sabres’ three goals and started off the season with a bang. Mittelstadt created a nice chance for Sheary early in the first period, which gave the team a 1-0 lead.

The Sabres looked sharp early. At one point, they were outshooting the Pens by a ridiculous margin of something like 13-3; though they obviously couldn’t sustain that over sixty minutes, they came out hard early, were strong on the forecheck and didn’t give Pittsburgh much space to work with.

Evgeni Malkin eventually tied the game, but the Sabres didn’t back down. Again, it was that duo of Sheary and Mittelstadt putting together a solid play that turned into a chance and, eventually, a goal. Mittelstadt created just enough of a distraction in front of the net, taking a couple Penguins just out of the play enough to let Sheary slip the puck through.

Defenseman Colin Miller also recorded an assist on Sheary’s second goal, marking his first point as a member of the Sabres organization and also his 100th career NHL point.

One of the highlights of the night, however, was Rasmus Dahlin’s goal late in the second period. An excellent sequence of plays from Sam Reinhart and Dahlin, including a backhand pass to the defender through three Penguins, led to the Sabres’ third goal of the evening. Dahlin ended up lifting up over Matt Murray’s glove side in an incredible effort.

Seriously, can we just keep watching this goal on a loop?

As the third period came, and the clock began to wind down, the Penguins just looked out of it. They couldn’t sustain any momentum, and the Sabres did a good job of limiting their chances over the course of the game. Buffalo didn’t allow Pittsburgh to really get close to the Sabres’ net, and that helped limit the chances they had.

Also, the Sabres didn’t back down in the third period, something they might’ve done in the past - and that’s an important improvement, even if it is only one game. While it would’ve been nice to see Buffalo score on any one of their breakaways - including two from Zemgus Girgensons and one from Victor Olofsson - this game was overall a pretty complete effort from the Sabres.

Overall, the Sabres outshot the Penguins 41-29 and went 1-2 on the man advantage. Jack Eichel went 56% in the face-off circle, and Johan Larsson won 59% of the draws he took. Jake McCabe led all skaters on both teams with 19:03 ice time, and also recorded two hits and four blocked shots. Even Vladimir Sobotka contributed six hits.

Thursday’s game overall produced an encouraging result, with a solid all-around effort, decent penalty-killing, several good saves from Hutton and a determined third period where the team refused to back down. But as head coach Ralph Krueger said after the game: the Sabres haven’t accomplished anything after this win. It’s only two points, only one game, and there’s a long season of hockey ahead.