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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

SEPT. 23, 2015: OTT 5 - BUF 2
Friday @ TOR, 7 p.m. (Radio: WGR)
Three second-period goals buried the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday in their second preseason game, a 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators at First Niagara Center. Evander Kane scored twice for Buffalo in his Sabres debut.

“He shot it well, I thought he skated well,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said afterward of Kane. “We had some defensive lapses in the game, they get on top of the game there in the second period but I think you can see Evander, his skating and his ability to shoot the puck.”

Center Ryan O’Reilly, also making his Sabres debut, earned an assist on both of Kane’s goals and Tyler Ennis tallied an assist as well. Ryan Dzingel had three points (1+2) for the Senators and Max McCormick, Alex Chiasson, Zack Stortini and Mika Zibanejad also scored for Ottawa.

After outshooting Ottawa 25-19 through the first two periods, Buffalo finally got on the board in the third with its second shorthanded goal in as many preseason games. O’Reilly found Evander Kane alone in space, and Kane showed off his sharpshooting ability with a hard shot that beat Chris Driedger on his glove side.

Kane scored again later in the third period, this time on the power play, with a hard slap shot from the right circle. It was an especially promising performance for the forward considering it was his first game action since undergoing shoulder surgery in February of last season.

“Obviously any time you score it’s nice to get on the board and get you feeling good and gets the ball rolling a bit,” Kane said. “We had some chances early in the first but like I said, it’s to be expected [in the first preseason game], you’re gonna make mistakes and you’re gonna not be as sharp as you want to be.”

Part of the reason the Sabres had trouble scoring in the first period was the stellar performance of Matt O’Connor, Ottawa’s undrafted rookie goaltender who spent last season playing alongside Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues at Boston University. O’Connor turned away the Sabres at every step, tallying 18 saves before being replaced by Chris Driedger midway through the game.

All in all though, the Sabres left the game having turned in a promising offensive performance, outshooting Ottawa by a final count of 42-28. It was their defensive play, Bylsma said, that left something to be desired – both McCormick’s and Chiasson’s goals came alone in front of the net.

“I think it is safe to say that, you just look at the time we had in the offensive zone and the shots we had in the offensive zone, I think it could have been different, especially in the first period before they got on the board,” Bylsma said. “But the lapses we had were pretty major, and that’s part of where we need to grow as a team because the opportunities they had were golden.”

Part of improving on defense will come from having their regulars on the ice: neither Rasmus Ristolainen nor Zach Bogosian, who will be counted on to play big minutes in the regular season, has played in the preseason due to minor injuries. But both are expected back by the time the Sabres next host the Senators – on Oct. 8, in their regular-season opener.

Having finally made his team debut, O’Reilly said he’s looking forward to the challenge that game will bring.

“It was a great atmosphere. Putting on the sweater is a great experience; obviously disappointed in the game though,” O’Reilly said. “I thought it would’ve been a lot better and myself there, I didn’t play the way I wanted to and it’s a good thing it’s the preseason. We see these guys again and it would be nice to beat them.”

Another key debut made for the Sabres came in-between the pipes, where Robin Lehner played his first game since sustaining a season-ending concussion in February. Lehner was traded to Buffalo from Ottawa over the summer in exchange for the 21st pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

Despite giving up three goals, Lehner said afterward that he was pleased with night overall.

“Honestly, the fast three goals there I’m not happy with that but it felt pretty good,” Lehner said. “I felt calm, I felt collected and I saw the puck well I thought.”

Lehner was at a disadvantage for all three those goals; in addition to McCormick’s and Chiasson’s wide-open opportunities, the third goal scored against him came on a rebound with one of his own defenders backing into him.

“I really liked Robin’s first period a lot,” Bylsma said. “They got away with a free one in the slot that went over his right shoulder, Chiasson’s goal, the rebound goal in the crease he probably didn’t like how they crowded the net. Robin’s got to keep getting in the net, keep playing for us and he’ll get that a little bit down the road.”

Lehner made 16 saves in two periods of play before being replaced by Andrey Makarov, whose lone goal against came on a tough one-timer in the crease.

It may have been a preseason contest between the Sabres and Senators, but tempers between the two rivals in were in midseason form in the third period.

After Jason Akeson dished out a punishing hit that sent Ottawa’s Colin Greening to the locker room, Travis Ewanyk immediately retaliated. Ewanyk raced over and started laying blows on an unsuspecting Akeson and, after a brief fight, he joined Greening in the locker room after being assessed two minutes for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct.

The Sabres’ next preseason game will be played in Toronto against the Maple Leafs on Friday at Air Canada Centre. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The game can be heard live on WGR 550 with Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call.

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