Score: Capitals 6 | Sabres 4
Shots: BUF-26 | WSH-28
Sabres Goals: Taylor Hall (1), Tobias Rieder (1), Jake McCabe (1), Victor Olofsson (1)
Capitals Goals: Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Brenden Dillon, Jakub Vrana, Garnet Hathaway (EN)
Minus 1 - Feels Like the First Time
Thursday’s game was the first real action for the Sabres in a whopping 311 days, and it looked like it. From the get-go and throughout the night, little mistakes cost them. Passing was lackluster, giveaways were painful, the defense left Carter Hutton out to dry at some points and everything just felt so slow. The Sabres did have a little bit of extra training camp time compared to teams that made the playoffs, but it was still only a two-week camp with no preseason action. This was their first test, and they probably scraped together a C effort at best.
Minus 2 - Use Somebody
Jeff Skinner played only 14:31 in the season-opener. Dylan Cozens was on the bench for chunks of the third period, when the game was still within reach. And why not pull Skinner up to play with guys like Sam Reinhart and Cozens? If line combinations aren’t working, a team should be flexible enough to shift things around in the midst of a game, but that’s not really what we saw on Thursday night - and it didn’t work out very well for the Sabres.
Plus 1 - On the Offense
I’ll be blunt: Ilya Samsonov looked pretty bad on Thursday night, but the Sabres didn’t capitalize as much as they could’ve. The young goaltender flubbed on some shots and whenever Buffalo put the puck on net, he often looked out of place.
Taylor Hall managed to strike first for the Sabres, notching his first goal in the blue & gold:
Hall power play goal assisted by Olofsson and Eichel.— Ben Mathewson (Optimistic Sabres Fan) (@Ben_Mathewson) January 15, 2021
Later in the game, Jake McCabe scored this beautiful goal to reduce Washington’s lead to one goal. Tage Thompson was critical on this play, keeping the puck in the zone, followed by a pass from Eichel to the waiting McCabe who struck quickly. This could’ve easily been a game-changing moment for the Sabres - it was just 20 seconds into the third period - but was quickly followed up by a Capitals goal, rendering it essentially meaningless.
McCabe Goal - Eichel assist— Ben Mathewson (Optimistic Sabres Fan) (@Ben_Mathewson) January 15, 2021
4-3 Washington pic.twitter.com/zs6Xab8kF6
The Sabres did manage to keep Alex Ovechkin from scoring - though he did record a pair of assists - and held Zdeno Chara off the scoresheet in his debut with Washington.
Things to Watch
The Sabres and Capitals will meet again on Friday, same time, same place. It’s likely that Linus Ullmark will replace Carter Hutton in goal as a result of the back-to-back.
Two players who may not be in the lineup on Friday night: Buffalo’s Eric Staal and Washington’s Nic Dowd. Dowd delivered a dangerous hit to the head of Staal in the middle of the ice. He received only a minor penalty on the play, but is likely to hear from NHL Player Safety and could miss some time. Staal, meanwhile, got up under his own power but headed straight to the locker room. If Staal has to miss any time, the Sabres could recall a player from the taxi squad, such as Casey Mittelstadt or Jack Quinn.
Dowd hits Staal in the head pic.twitter.com/Fnztvqur6j— Ben Mathewson (Optimistic Sabres Fan) (@Ben_Mathewson) January 15, 2021
With one game in the books, Taylor Hall (1-1), Jack Eichel (0-2), Jake McCabe (1-1) and Victor Olofsson (1-1) are all tied for the Sabres’ point lead. Dylan Cozens also registered his first career NHL point on Thursday evening with an assist on Tobias Rieder’s second-period tally, while Tage Thompson recorded an assist for his first point since March 7, 2019.