Score: Sabres 3 | Senators 1
Shots: BUF 32 | OTT 44
Buffalo Sabres Goals:
1) Cozens (Tuch, Butcher)
2) Jankowski (Unassisted)
3) Tuch (Cozens, Skinner)
Ottawa Senators Goals:
1) Batherson (Stutzle, Chabot)
Plus 1: Houser’s Night
The legend of Michael Houser enters its second season as the once unknown goaltender continues to make to most of his opportunities with the Sabres. He scored wins in his first two starts near the end of last season and had a stellar night tonight. Ending the night with 43 saves and a win, Houser was locked in from the opening faceoff. He was tracking pucks well and kept himself in position to make big saves at key moments. It remains to be seen how consistent Houser can be at this level but getting this kind of performance from the organization’s 6th string goaltender is a pleasant surprise. To their credit, Buffalo’s defense was able to support Houser and clear out most rebound opportunities. For a young team looking to grow, solid goaltending performances like this will be key to the team’s improvement.
Plus 2: Here Comes Backup
Everyone likes a teammate that has your back. When Tkachuk dropped Butcher behind the Sabres net, Eakin immediately went to Butcher’s defense. After Eakin threw a hit, Hayden took over and dropped the gloves with Tkachuk. Midway through the third period, Kyle Okposo took a nasty hit between the benches. Mark Pysyk was the one to answer the call this time as he practically tackled the offending Ottawa player. The ensuing scrum tied up every player on the rink except for two. Jankowski picked Josh Brown’s pocket to set himself up for a breakaway (and game-winning) goal. The Sabres may not have many wins to show for it, but they are starting to come together. This game is a very encouraging sign for a significantly better second half of the season.
Plus 3: Al and Jeff’s Excellent Adventure
Since entering the Sabres lineup, Alex Tuch has found instant chemistry with Jeff Skinner. They have been a consistent offensive threat regardless of who’s their center and have found the scoresheet in nearly every game they have played together. Outside of Eichel, Skinner has largely had linemates that created offense primarily through cycling the puck down low and crashing the net while he has been in Buffalo. However, Tuch is a unique forward who excels at using his size to win battles in the corner and utilizing his speed to create chances off the rush. This is a perfect complement to Skinner, who’s at his best off the rush or in tight around the net. With these two clearly earning the top left/right wing positions, the next step for Granato is to figure out which of Buffalo’s young centers is the right fit for a potentially lethal offensive line.
The Sabres earned a solid win against a team in a similar rebuilding stage. Even without top center Tage Thompson due to border restrictions, Buffalo played a very good road game to walk away with two points. Buffalo has struggled in the back half of back-to-back games so far this year, but with Houser’s great performance, they were able to stave off the young Senators’ stars long enough for Tuch to bury the empty net dagger. Moving forward, the Sabres and Senators look poised to renew one of the best rivalries in the NHL. Next year, each team should add a top defender from the NCAA ranks (Power for Buffalo and Sanderson for Ottawa). Anyone who remembers the mid-2000s slugfests between these two teams should be excited for future battles.