Through the first four games of the 2022-2023 season, the Buffalo Sabres look like a rejuvenated mixture of youth, optimism, skill and... hope. For a city and sports fandom that’s been through plenty of tough times, it’s a refreshing change from recent years and offers a breath of fresh air for those tuning in.
On Friday afternoon, I posed a question on the Die By the Blade Twitter account. It’s a simple one: who has been the best Sabres player this season so far? As one commenter posited: isn’t it nice that there are multiple options to choose from? If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll remember the days when picking a player who had been ‘good’ was pretty darn difficult. Granted, we’re only four games in, so all of this is taken with a grain of salt because of the small sample size, but there’s still been a lot to like early on.
The most popular answer has understandably been Rasmus Dahlin. He’s clearly skating with some pep in his step, a newfound confidence and sense of leadership that’s spoken volumes on the ice. After scoring three goals in as many games, honestly, there was no question in my mind that he’d set the new NHL record on Thursday night. And sure enough, he wasted no time becoming the first defenseman to score a goal in each of his team’s first four games. Even when that streak ends, it seems like the sky is the limit for this promising young blueliner. Rasmus is here, he’s ready to rock and the vibes are off the charts.
Goaltender Eric Comrie has been a pleasant surprise. Coming into the season, Comrie was largely unproven, and I’ll be honest: my expectations of him were not very high. After he made 33 saves in the loss to Florida, the water was still murky. Is this just a one-game fluke, that also ended in a loss? But that 46-save performance against Edmonton? And another 40-save game in Calgary? He’s looked downright sharp, as if he knows this is his net. It goes back to that confidence, that style, that flash. Obviously, he’s not going to play every game, but even Craig Anderson (in his one game thus far) was solid. Given how many minutes Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is getting in Rochester - he’s played every game so far - it’s honestly nice to see some stability in net in Buffalo, too.
And what can you say about JJ Peterka? The kid skated into this season with all of two NHL games under his belt, but he’s rocked it from the first time he hit the ice this year. Scoring your first NHL goal will undoubtedly give a 20-year-old a lot of confidence, and you can’t blame him! He’s racked up four points (2-2) in as many games, including one game-winning goal, all while averaging 12:06 ice time.
Part of this goes back to something I wrote in March, about how the Sabres are having fun and the importance of that on team morale and thus, on-ice performance. All you need to see is the video of Dahlin doing the ‘griddy’ after Thursday’s win in Calgary to know that locker room is having a blast. It’s a two-way street: winning helps morale, but having a positive energy and morale also helps the on-ice performance, too.
Alex Tuch recorded his first career hat trick on Thursday night, so he now leads the team with five goals and is tied with six points (with Dahlin). Vinnie Hinostroza was scratched for the first two games, but since being inserted into the lineup, he’s had four assists - including three in the Calgary win. Even Casey Mittelstadt, who hasn’t had the best start to the season in some respects, has stepped up: three points in his last two games.
And that’s without even mentioning Tage Thompson or Dylan Cozens.
No matter where you look on this Sabres roster, you’re finding some successes, big or small. It may only be four games into the season - four games out of a long season of 82 games, and
maybe even more, but it’s been four entertaining games, to be sure. Imagine how great the energy will be once Mattias Samuelsson finally scores his first NHL goal, or Casey Fitzgerald, for that matter. Imagine if Dahlin continues his offensive flair, or even if he doesn’t. Imagine if Craig Anderson, at the ripe age of 41, records a shutout. Why not.
The Sabres are truly happening now, it feels like. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already on board, but if not, now would be a good time to hop on for the ride — it’s bound to be a fun one.