Jack Quinn had familiar faces waiting for him when he took the KeyBank Center ice for his solo lap prior to warmups, a tradition for rookies making their NHL debut.
A group of Quinn's Rochester Americans teammates stood in the front row, pounding on the glass. Defenseman Mattias Samuelsson and forward Ryan Scarfo wore Quinn's No. 22 jersey backwards, with his name facing the ice.
"That was pretty cool," Quinn said. "That was special. They told me they were coming. I was a little surprised, but it was great to see them."
Quinn's debut was a silver lining in an otherwise disappointing 6-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen sustained a lower-body injury and did not return for the second period. Vinnie Hinostroza scored for lone goal for Buffalo, which played without forwards Tage Thompson, Kyle Okposo, Alex Tuch, and Peyton Krebs due to COVID-19 protocols.
Quinn, the Sabres' first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2020 NHL Draft, skated on a line with Hinostroza and Dylan Cozens and posted team highs in shots (3) and shot attempts (6). He twice was robbed of his first NHL goal, first when Victor Hedman blocked his shot at an open net during the first period and later when Cal Foote used his foot to stop a shot in the crease during the third.
The 20-year-old, lauded for his maturity by coaches and teammates, was unwilling to chalk those plays up to misfortune.
"I think as I get settled in I'd bear down a little bit more on those, both of them," he said. "The first one I didn't have my head up as much as I should have and shot it into him and the second one handcuffed me a little, maybe I wasn't as ready as I should've been. So, a little bit on me too."
Video: POSTGAME: Quinn
Still, the fact that he positioned himself for scoring chances was a positive sign from a player who has been one of the AHL's top producers this season. His 12 goals rank eighth in the league despite having missed over a month with mononucleosis.
"I think it's a good thing, for sure," Quinn said. "I think it's promising. I think our line played pretty well and got rewarded with some chances."
Quinn even managed to impress on the lone Lightning goal he was on the ice for, an Anthony Cirelli shot from the high slot during the first period. Quinn put his head down and backchecked to cover Steven Stamkos on what developed as an odd-man rush, but Mikhail Sergachev found Cirelli as the trailer.
"Jack, I thought, was really good," Sabres coach Don Granato said. "I liked a lot of things in him game. He created a couple chances. He was very aware with the puck, very in tune in the game. I thought it was a real good first game for him."
Okposo and Tuch both skated Tuesday morning and could potentially be available to return Thursday in Nashville. Whether Quinn joins the team for the road trip or continues his season in Rochester remains to be seen.
When he does play for the Sabres again, he will have a strong first outing to build on.
"I think the next game I'm able to play there'll be less nerves and I'll be a lot more comfortable, so it's exciting to play the games after the first one just as much," he said.
The Lightning built a 5-0 lead before Hinostroza scored for the Sabres. Nikita Kucherov recorded a hat trick on seven shots while Alex Killorn tallied three assists. Ondrej Palat and Stamkos also scored goals.
Malcolm Subban made 23 saves on 27 shots in relief of Luukkonen.
"Obviously, we needed a better effort," Granato said. "It was individual but it was collective. And like I said, you could tell they were ready for us. They were ultra-sharp tonight and they executed. Obviously, they got a full lineup back with Kucherov coming back and they're healthy right now and they're feeling it. You could see that tonight.
"We didn't execute, obviously, the way we wanted. No excuses. We weren't sharp and we paid the price."
The Sabres visit the Nashville Predators to open a two-game road trip on Thursday. Coverage on MSG begins at 7:30 p.m. The puck drops at 8.