Marco Scandella and Matt Tennyson came to Buffalo under vastly different circumstances. Scandella was acquired via trade with the expectation that he'd log top minutes on defense; Tennyson was an under-the-radar signing on July 1 who played his way onto the roster in training camp.
In their first game as a defensive pair on Thursday, however, both looked very much at home in Phil Housley's system.
"I thought they played extremely well," Housley said. "Marco missing all of camp, not playing a preseason game, and stepping right into the action did a tremendous job. He's calming influence back there for sure.
"Matt, he improved throughout the camp. He understands our concepts and the way we want to play. Seeing him join the rush and his timing was really well, and defensively he had a good stick, good positon."
Video: Sabres Now (10/6/17)
Scandella has been held out exhibition play as the Sabres worked him back cautiously from offseason hip surgery. Their patience paid off; Scandella logged 21:11 of ice time - the third highest mark on the team - and tallied three shot attempts and four hits in his debut on Thursday.
"It's a great sign," Scandella said. "We waited until I was 100 percent ready to play so we didn't take any chances. I was very comfortable jumping in the game and battling. I didn't even think about my hip."
Scandella and Tennyson worked as a pair in practice during the week leading up to the opener, and it showed in their communication. In addition to typical responsibilities like communicating the breakout, Housley's system demands defensemen to read off of each other when joining the rush.
Housley has commended Tennyson's timing in this area throughout camp, and it showed in plays like this rush that nearly produced a scoring chance in the third period:
"It's just making sure that one of us is back," Tennyson said. "When the forwards start going up the ice, you kind of yell. One of us will go, one of us stays back and make sure we've got that covered."
"This is the game we're going to bring," Scandella added. "In the league nowadays to have success you have to have the D jumping in the rush and being part of the attack. I feel like that's what we're building."
On the forecheck, meanwhile, the Sabres were able to hem Montreal in their own zone for large portions by using their defensemen to pinch down the wall and cutoff breakout attempts. Scandella and Tennyson provided a great example in the second period:
Scandella pinches down on the left wall and rims the puck around behind the end boards. Tennyson is there to cut the puck off on the other side, while Zemgus Girgensons takes his place defensively. The plays led to a scoring chance for Scandella down low.
"I think when the D can get up and seal the wall there, it really disrupts their breakouts and makes it harder for the other team to breakout if both D can get up and close the gap on those forwards," Tennyson said. "I think we're a really mobile group on the back end so if we continue to do that hopefully we can continue to hem teams in their own zone."
Zach Bogosian remains day-to-day and is not expected to travel for the team's game in Brooklyn on Saturday, but his eventual return figures to impact the composition of the Sabres defensive lineup. Until then, the pair of Scandella and Tennyson seems off to a promising start.
Sabres seeking improvement at net-front and in neutral zone
Video: Phil Housley After Practice (10/6/17)
The Sabres certainly answered Housley's call for a shot mentality on Thursday, generating 45 shots and 69 shot attempts against Montreal goalie Carey Price. The trouble, Housley said, was that Price saw the puck too often.
As the Sabres continue to work on their game, Housley said developing a net-front presence will be an area of focus.
"We addressed that today, we're working on some options," he said. "Moving forward, we can't get away from what we did in the game yesterday. We've got to continue to shoot, but now we've got to get a second and third opportunity off that shot."
Defensively, for as many shots as the Sabres were able to generate, they also gave up 40 against. Housley said he'll look for better decisions in the neutral zone as a means to limiting their opponent's opportunities moving forward.
"The things that we can control is getting pucks deep," Housley said. "We talk about the next level where we're getting it in the blue line, but we are not getting into the corner. As a result, it feeds their transition and we're coming back and we're spending energy in the wrong area. Those things, we've got to be better at."
Off to Brooklyn
The Sabres will play their first road game of the season against the New York Islanders a Barclays Center on Saturday night. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 6:30 p.m. with the GMC Pregame Show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.