Brian Duff takes a look at some of the players that caught his eye in Buffalo's preseason opener in Montreal.
Nikita Zadorov was active early, laying the body on Brendan Gallagher, and as the game progressed was counted upon in critical penalty killing situations late in the third period and again in overtime.
Using every inch of his 6-foot-5 frame, he laid out in the slot and managed to get his feet on a point shot towards the tail end of the Habs final 4-on-3 advantage. It capped a wild sequence where all three 3-man units did a terrific job.
Coach Ron Rolston liked what he saw from this year’s 16th overall pick
“He has a ton of ability, a lot of poise, he can makes plays and really skate and cover a lot of ground for his size,” Rolston said.
Rasmus Ristolainen played perhaps a more “mature game” than his fellow first rounder, according to Rolston, but that didn’t make it any less impressive.
Shorthanded, with just under 14 minutes to go in the third period, Ristolainen was drilled on the right side of his lower body. As quick as he went down, he was right back up, determined to get through the remainder of the play, which lasted longer than any of them would have liked.
Upon his arrival at the bench, veteran Henrik Tallinder was the first to lean in, put his glove on the helmet of the sturdy Finn and offer a “well done” type comment. That sequence seemed to put more of a spotlight on No. 55 for the remainder of the game.
Five minutes later, he made another block on the PK and a few minutes after that, his point shot was perfectly placed, making for a rebound off the pads of Zachary Fucale, leading to an assist on the tying goal by Colton Gillies.
And just like Zadorov, Ristolainen then gutted out more shorthanded ice time to close out the third, and in overtime.
Aside from being quick to prop up Ristolainen on the bench, Tallinder was impressed with both first rounders in their NHL preseason debuts.
“They’re big, they can move, and they can move the puck which is really impressive,” he said.
Mikhail Grigorenko was relatively quiet for much of the game, playing between Steve Ott and Ville Leino. But despite being on for a goal against that made it 2-1 Montreal, they quickly answered to get the game even.
In the numerous power plays that followed, it appeared as though Grigorenko became more comfortable in those offensive situations. The Sabres had good zone time on many of their odd-man situations, but the Canadiens shot blocking ability was simply superior.
Shorthand situations late in the third and in overtime limited his ice time but his shootout winner showed he was eager for the opportunity to contribute.
“He’s got a ton of talent and you can see what he can do on the power play and in shootout situations that he was in tonight, but he’s going to have to continue to improve in other areas,” Rolston said.
Zemgus Girgensons silenced the Bell Center on two occasions; once short-handed on a power drive down the left wing, while the other tally was a welcome to the NHL moment for the barely warmed-up Zachary Fucale, who came into the Montreal crease in relief of Peter Budaj with a 3-2 lead.
Girgensons also took a goaltender interference penalty with a rugged net drive from the off wing, and showed tremendous hustle in overtime - quickly negating a Montreal odd-man rush after his shot was blocked in the offensive zone.
As many observers marvel at his work ethic and tenacity, Girgensons believes the offense has to be there if he is to stick with the Sabres.
“Definitely yeah, if you want to help the team it’s not only about defense, you have to do everything to help the team and that means scoring goals, making plays and doing the dirty work altogether,” he said.
Rolston was impressed with Girgensons play as well.
“I thought Z was one of our best players tonight,” Rolston said.
Some of the other noteworthy performances were turned in by Steve Ott, Drew Stafford, Colton Gillies, Matt Hackett and Henrik Tallinder.
Next stop: Columbus on Tuesday.