Double Minors: Jackets topple Sabres in season opener

The Sabres finally played a game that counted and it has left many fans counting the days (259 as of October 10) until a Connor McDavid jersey isn’t a faux pas.

Buffalo was thoroughly outplayed by a shorthanded Blue Jackets team last night, losing 3-1 and being dominated in terms of puck possession. Even with Ryan Johansen seeing his first ice with NHL players since the playoffs and with Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray and Nathan Horton on the shelf, the Blue Jackets were the better team for nearly the entire evening.

However, the Sabres were in the game right up until the final minutes. Jhonas Enroth was steady as he turned aside 37 shots and Zemgus Girgensons turned in an impressive individual effort to tie the game at one in the second.

In the end, it was about as textbook of a result that many Sabres fans may be hoping for this season. There is a fair segment of those who simply want the team to win now at all costs. There is another segment who are actively hoping for losses as the prize at the end of the rainbow surpasses any short-term success in their eye. Then there is a third segment. One which seems content watching the Sabres night-in and night-out, hoping to see a win but taking solace that a loss isn’t something to worry over.

Last night showed a Sabres team with some improved pieces, guys who will try hard and be more entertaining to watch but a group which will likely fall behind the pace of most other NHL clubs. Only Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges and Zemgus Girgensons had positive Corsi ratings at even strength (each was plus-one) while the entire roster was well into the negatives in all situations. I’d expect this to be the case through many games this season.

Of course, it is only one game. Enroth shouldn’t be expected to dazzle every night and he’ll certainly have his cold streaks. Buffalo will find their footing and put up a better fight in many games. The Sabres are going to be easier to consume than last year’s roster. However, this is still not a team that is built for puck possession and the very early returns didn’t show much improvement on special teams.

I’d imagine the biggest challenge for fans this season will be to not over analyze each and every game and how they affect Buffalo’s chances to pick first. It’s a long year and there are far too many positive story lines to follow instead of pulling out your hair hoping that the Sabres earn a stranglehold on 30th place.

Between the Pipes

Jhonas Enroth had a nice game. He was under duress for nearly the entire contest but he managed his space very well. While his denial of Artem Anisimov may have come from a bit more luck than skill, it was still a dazzling stop. However, his breakaway save early in the second was certainly the best of the night.

Enroth benefitted from the post at least four times but was otherwise quite good. He put a number of rebounds in bad places and that could really harm the Sabres down the line. In fact, there will probably be one night when things aren’t going his way when that is the exact culprit of a bad scoreline. Unless Michal Neuvirth catches a major hot streak once he sees the crease, I fully expect Enroth to see the lion’s share of the games this season.

Enroth’s counterpart, Sergei Bobrovsky was strong in limited action. He made a pair of very impressive side-to-side saves that took at least one sure goal away from the Sabres. Buffalo’s limited chances meant Bobrovsky had an easy night and the lone goal to beat him came at the end of a highlight reel effort.

I’ve always been down on Bobrovsky as I feel like he moves a little too much and over commits on a number of plays. However, the Columbus staff has done a great job using Bobrovsky’s athleticism to his benefit and he’s grown into a dominant starter.

  • A few thoughts on Sam Reinhart: His vision with the puck is uncanny and as he adjusts and grows that will be a true asset to the Sabres. He looks small on the ice, however. It looks like he could use a pair of bigger pants along with about 10 more pounds on his frame. He wasn’t overly noticeable last night but he has at least eight more games to show his skillset.
  • Buffalo’s defensive pairs were running around quite a bit last night. The Benoit-Meszaros pairing was particularly bad and Myers wasn’t all that terrific himself. I was interested to see that Myers and Gorges had the team’s best Corsi ratings considering they seemed to spend a fair amount of time in their own end.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised to see the fourth line undergo a whole lot of change throughout the year. Even without John Scott dragging them down, the trio wasn’t very effective and I wonder if Ted Nolan will consider other options (even beyond Brian Flynn and Pat Kaleta) if things don’t improve.
  • Zemgus Girgensons needs to take a step forward as an offensive threat this year in order to truly progress in my eyes. If he is indeed going to become an elite two-way center the offense needs to be there. He started things off well last night and I think a fair expectation for him would be 15-20 goals this season (basically double his 13-14 output).
  • Concessions and merchandise stands were severely handcuffed yesterday due to some sort of IT issue and it appeared the issues carried over to other aspects of the arena as the video open (which seemed pretty awesome) froze midway through and additional A/V issues cropped up through the first period. Not that anyone could have seen it coming, of course, but what a crappy day for that to happen on. I’m really looking forward to Monday’s game and seeing the full-length video open.
  • I heard the Sabres are using one of U2’s new songs as their goal song. I actually wondered previously (I can’t find the tweet) if they’d consider this song because of the call and answer in the chorus. I realize plenty of people dislike U2, but it does work as a goal song.

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