Only 20 percent of the roster remained the same from the preseason opener on Sunday in Montreal, but that group - Johan Larsson, Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, and Matt Hackett - again played a significant role in the Buffalo Sabres securing their second road win in September.
Fresh off a shootout deciding goal at the Bell Center, Grigorenko lined up with wingers Girgensons and Corey Tropp.
It appeared as though Grigorenko gained confidence and space from playing with the pair, as he made more subtle plays than perhaps we had seen before, some resulting in good transitions for the team out of their zone, others leading to offensive chances.
His good hands and instincts were at work when he scored in the third to make it 3-1, with the primary assist going to Tropp.
“That’s kind of my job is to get in on pucks and create havoc down low and create turnovers,” Tropp said. “Girgo did a good job calling for the puck and the goaltender and the D-man had a mishandle there. I just passed it to him and it makes things pretty easy out there.”
After serving as captain for the Sabres final two games at the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Larsson went from centering Girgensons and Drew Stafford in Montreal, to being a middle man for Tyler Ennis and Joel Armia, the latter of whom was playing in his first NHL preseason game.
The line produced 13 of the Sabres’ 49 shots that were either on goal, blocked or went wide. Larsson - as per usual - welcomed confrontations in the opposition’s crease and it was there where he had a goal called back for allegedly gloving it in.
When speaking of both Grigorenko and Larsson, coach Ron Rolston said both are making progress in their development.
“I think those young guys are going to, as they get more comfortable with the way we’re playing and also the League, I think you’re just going to see adjustments every game from those guys so we like the progress so far,” he said. “They’ve got a long ways still to go, but we’re excited about where they’re going.”
Larsson also won 4 of his 5 faceoffs, an area that all centermen, along with some of the wingers, have been working on daily in practice.
Keeping in mind that Sunday’s game required extra time, Girgensons played 5 fewer minutes (from 19:20 to 14:44), and had two fewer goals, but did end up a plus-1, had an assist and drew an early penalty on Boone Jenner (who he saw frequently in Traverse City). He looked like he was sporting a couple of fresh facial welts on the plane ride home as well.
All in a day’s work for Girgensons, who - when you see him during practice or a morning skate - always seems to be engaging a teammate, making them smile, challenging them, you name it.
|Matt Hackett |
As for Matt Hackett...another win.
He’s played just over 64 minutes, is 2-0-0, and has stopped 20 of 21 shots so far.
On Sunday, the Sabres scored about two minutes after he entered the game, this time around three-and-a-half minutes before restoring their lead. And Hackett made it stand.
I thought his best save was on Derek MacKenzie, which kept it 2-1 in the third, and was about 90 seconds prior to Grigorenko scoring the insurance marker.
He’s not as bulky as some goaltenders, and doesn’t employ a blocking style, therefore there’s a little more reactionary, reflex movement in his game and it’s nice to watch.
Obviously the story of the night was Marcus Foligno, but without a doubt the kids who played in Montreal continued to progress.
As for others who were easily noticeable, let’s start with Ryan Miller. It’s been a long time between games and Miller had some very strong sequences, ending with 15 saves on 16 shots.
Tyler Ennis also looked impressive, assertive, and comfortable back on the left wing.
Cody Hodgson had plenty of jump and was on for two of Buffalo’s three goals.
And I thought the pairing of Brayden McNabb and Chad Ruhwedel was quietly effective.
McNabb finished with 19:47 of time on ice, Ruhwedel at 18:35, but his 2:25 of short-handed time on ice was tops among Sabres defenders.