With five players making their debuts in a Buffalo Sabres uniform Thursday night, there were obviously some jitters the team needed to overcome. The hype of opening night was looming large and the Sabres couldn’t quite live up to the expectations they set for themselves.
Taking too many penalties also hurt their cause against the Columbus Blue Jackets at First Niagara Center.
A power-play goal by Cam Atkinson with 7:15 remaining in the third period broke a 1-1 tie and helped lift Columbus to a 3-1 victory. Zemgus Girgensons scored the lone Sabres goal.
The Blue Jackets had quite a few opportunities early on that could’ve tilted the game in their favor right away. The Sabres were shorthanded three times in the first period. Buffalo held strong and killed off all of Columbus’ opportunities and limiting them to four shots on goal.
“I didn’t our effort tonight. I thought it was OK at best,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “I don’t know what it was. I think the guys really wanted to do it. Maybe there were too [many] jitters about the home opener, too much hype about it. Sometimes when there’s too much hype, you just don’t match it.”
However, when the Sabres finally got their first power play of the game, 9:09 into the third period, it was quickly eradicated when captain Brian Gionta was called for hooking 1:38 later. Columbus ended up with the man advantage and that’s when Atkinson struck.
“We never found our footing. Penalties, you give them that many chances, they’re going to capitalize,” Gionta said. “It’s something we need to clean up.”
The play of Jhonas Enroth in goal kept the Sabres in the game. Enroth finished with 37 saves but picked up the loss. He got a little help from his friend the crossbar on two separate occasions. His counterpart, Sergei Bobrovsky, turned aside 21 shots.
After Blue Jackets forward Jack Skille popped the water bottle on a wrist shot to open the scoring with 6:39 left in the second period, the Sabres roared back 1:21 later when Zemgus Girgensons broke into the Columbus zone like a bull on skates.
Girgensons collected a loose puck in the neutral zone, muscled his way over the blue line and raced down the middle of the ice with his sights set on the goal. Girgensons worked his way past both Artem Anisimov and Jack Johnson and just as he reached the top of the crease, put the puck up over Bobrovsky and spun out behind the net.
“I got the puck through and it was a breakaway so nothing more to add there,” Girgensons said. “I think that could’ve given us a little bit a boost but it was late in the second. In the third, we came out a little bit flat.”
Marcus Foligno recorded the assist.
The goal was an example of what they would've liked to see more of from the players.
“We talked about going north-south with the puck all the time and we get into the offensive zone and we try to make that rink-wide pass. When you play a good team like Columbus, they’re going to pick those passes off and intercept them.”
Reinhart, at 18 years and 338 days, became the sixth youngest player to dress in a regular season game for the Sabres. The youngest was Pierre Turgeon, who made his NHL debut on Oct. 8, 1987 against Minnesota when he was 18 years and 41 days old. Only Turgeon, Nikita Zadorov, Jay McKee, Mikhail Grigorenko and Wayne Primeau made their NHL debuts as Sabres at a younger age.
Reinhart was one of five Sabres to make their debuts with Buffalo. Gionta, alternate captain Josh Gorges and defensemen Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros, who joined the team in the off-season suited up for Buffalo for the first time.
He said afterwards that he felt he adjusted well to the pace of the game as it went along. He got acclimated to the physical side of the game as well when Skille hammered him in the corner midway through the first period.
“Something’s wrong if you’re not nervous before your first game. It didn’t start until a minute before the puck dropped but even after the first shift, you settle down.”
The Sabres next play Saturday night in Chicago, so he’ll have a quick turnaround when it comes to learning both what he did right and what he can do better.
“He was OK,” Nolan said. “For an 18-year-old kid jumping in against a team like Columbus – a pretty quick team. They’re a good team and he gets it to do it again next game against Chicago.”
MORE EXPERIENCE MOVING FORWARD
Buffalo’s opening night roster Thursday was much more experienced than last year’s. The 2014-15 Sabres have a combined 5,858 games of NHL experience compared to the 5,516 played by the 2013-14 opening night roster.
While the result didn’t show on Thursday, the Sabres want to keep building and stay in every game.
“Our young guys are obviously one year older and we don’t want to go though that season we had last year,” Enroth said. “We want to win more games and we don’t really care who’s getting drafted next year. We want to win every game.”