For a few fleeting moments on Thursday night, the plan had fallen into place perfectly. Evander Kane had shoveled a puck home from beside the net, DJ Kool was blasting throughout the arena and the momentum had fully shifted as the Sabres had tied the game.
However, Ottawa successfully challenged the play as the Sabres were deemed to have been offside on the zone entry and the score reverted to 2-1. While the Sabres still had a firm control over the game, they were unable to score another tying marker.
For the record, the Senators and the referees made the right call. The play was just ever slightly offside and the review showed that. So twice in two nights the new NHL review system worked as planned. It will be a hard pill to swallow for Sabres fans but it was the right call.
There was a much different feeling in the arena as every seat was full well ahead of face off and the fans were fairly engaged throughout the evening. Tim Murray built an impressive roster and the fans came out to see the show. There were even a few organic “Let’s Go Buffalo” chants, which was refreshing after nearly five years of the First Niagara Library.
Even in a losing effort it’s hard to say that the fans didn’t get their money’s worth. Eichel cashed the first goal of the season – on a gorgeous snipe, no less – and the Sabres put forth a strong third period in a losing effort. There’s a lot to like about this version of the Sabres and that’s only going to grow as the roster gels and the season continues.
The video review wound up tarnishing the evening – even more than a goal 30 seconds into play could ever have – as the crowd was amped and the Sens had been knocked to the mat twice in short order. While I certainly can’t gripe the call or the Senators’ execution of the challenge, I can certainly take issue with the challenge system, however.
When the first conversations on instituting a challenge began I was supportive of it. There was too much grey area with goaltender interference penalties and providing a solution to that was much needed. Adding in the ability to challenge plays like offside or the puck going out of play made sense, in theory. However, tonight’s replay was not only lengthy, it highlighted an incredibly close offside call. This was no Matt Duchene vs. Nashville scenario. I fear that this new replay system may grow into a monster the NHL will regret introducing.
For the most part, the NHL video review system is sound. Goals are reviewed when necessary and it has provided the league with a sound backup for the men on the ice. This new system has the potential to mirror the cursed foot-in-the-crease rule which, you may have heard, isn’t well regarded in WNY.
At it’s core, the crease rule took goals off the board based on scenarios that were largely inconsequential to the scoring play. While the razor thin offside call tonight ultimately led to the offensive zone possession that led to Buffalo’s goal, it wasn’t a direct contributor to the scoring opportunity. For a league that is starving for offense to help draw more fans, creating a rule that takes goals off the board and dramatically slows the game is the last thing they need.
Perhaps lengthy offside reviews will become a pox on the league this season and the competition committee will quickly see the error in the system. We’re only two nights into the season and I’ll certainly be singing the praises of the review system when it works in Buffalo’s favor. But at the end of the day the league is toeing a very fine line between supplementing the four sets of eyes on the ice, and adding another cumbersome barrier to goal scoring. We’ll see in short order.
After a few shaky starts in preseason Robin Lehner was in need of a strong outing to start his career in Buffalo off on the right foot. A goal 30 seconds in and an early departure surely weren’t what he planned on. The lone goal he conceded was hardly his fault and the injury appeared to be somewhat bizarre in nature. It’s a shame as he not only rebounded beautifully after conceding that opening goal, but he is a big part of what could work so well here this season. He was spotted in a walking boot after the game and it doesn’t sound like it’s an injury that will heal in a short period of time. Get well soon, Robin.
- Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma are probably hoping Zach Bogosian and Brendan Guhle heal soon. A full complement of defenders will give the organization a much better idea of what is and isn’t working on the blue line. Cody Franson and Mike Weber do no complement each other well as they’re both big bodies who don’t move too quickly. While I though the other two pairs did well in areas, that third pair could use some work and getting Bogosian and Guhle back healthy could help clear the water a bit.
- Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk set the bar on the back end although I felt both Josh Gorges and Carlo Colaiacovo were each strong in their season debuts. Adding Bogosian and Guhle (for nine games at least) to the mix will give clarity to the pairings.
- One goal for doesn’t say too much about the potential of the Sabres’ forward group at the moment. But make no mistake, there’s plenty to like. Eichel speaks for himself but Evander Kane was terrific tonight and I really liked what I saw from Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson.
- The Moulson-O’Reilly-Ennis line seems a little disjointed to me. I’m not sure I’m too keen on pulling Kane away from Eichel just yet but I don’t know if Moulson is a perfect fit for the other two. Blysma played a little musical chairs with his wingers beyond the first line tonight, I’m not sure he’ll be set on groupings until everyone is healthy.
- I have a lot of faith that Evander Kane will find his footing in Buffalo. He played fast and straight-ahead tonight. He technically scored and was involved offensively. He’s obviously going to see enough minutes to contribute and I’d be shocked if he doesn’t.
- I was so wrong about the goal song. In the arena, with the fans behind it, Let Me Clear My Throat was terrific. The arena was loud to begin with after Eichel went cheese, it jumped by a number of decibels when the song dropped. No joke, people went nuts for the new goal song. Kane’s apparent tying tally drove home the point as the fans were still amped after Eichel’s first and when the tying goal went in and that song came on again, the place was absolutely hopping. Great choice.
- One other note on the goal song and the contest. The fan voting was a great move by the Sabres. It was a reason for the fans to buy into something ahead of the opener and the voting process gave it that extra oomph. While there was some serious potential for the reveal to fall flatter than the Turd Jerseys, dropping it after the first goal wound up paying off. That was a gamble that I’m glad they took. I probably would’ve been glad either way as I would’ve gotten a kick out of waiting 48 more hours to potentially unveil the new tune.
Closing Thought: Saturday’s contest will be no easy feat as the Lightning are really good. However, I’d expect the Sabres to come out a little looser than they did tonight and they’ll put on a better show offensively as a result.