EDMONTON - Before the Sabres took the ice to play the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night, Dan Bylsma spoke of an adjustment period for Kyle Okposo to get acclimated to his new system and his new teammates. As it turned out, that adjustment took less than three minutes.
Okposo looked plenty comfortable playing on the right wing of Sam Reinhart and Ryan O'Reilly and scored his first goal as a Sabre 2:37 into the contest. He then earned an assist on O'Reilly's power-play goal less than five minutes later. Thus marked the beginning of a 6-2 win for the Sabres, who handed the Oilers their first-ever loss at Rogers Place.
"It's nice. It's good for the confidence," Okposo said. "I'm happy to get that one off my back and, you know, just a good win for us tonight."
Okposo was a new ingredient in Buffalo's first win of the season. The others were things we've seen before: Ryan O'Reilly printing his name all over the score sheet with a career-four points (2+2), a strong effort from the "shutdown" line of Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson and Brian Gionta and a 31-save performance in net by Robin Lehner.
Gionta scored twice, Matt Moulson netted his second power-play goal in as many games and Rasmus Ristolainen added three assists. All of that, combined with a defensive performance that held Connor McDavid off the score sheet for the first time this season, made for a convincing win for a team playing without Jack Eichel and Evander Kane.
It was certainly a far cry from their season-opening loss to Montreal last Thursday, which came on the heels of losing Eichel to a high-ankle sprain in practice the day prior and saw Kane leave with three cracked ribs in the second period.
"Looking back at the Montreal game, no question we were out of sorts a bit right from the start of that game. I don't think we had it at any time in that game," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "Tonight was completely, completely different mentality, completely different focus from our team … I thought we played a smart game and a heads up game. That's how the Buffalo Sabres need to play."
Video: BYLSMA: Postgame Interview
The Sabres were particularly tested at the conclusion of the first period, when back-to-back goals on odd-man rushes led to Oilers goals for Benoit Pouliot and Milan Lucic. Just like that, the 2-0 lead that Okposo and O'Reilly had created was gone.
They went into the dressing room, collected themselves, and left feeling confident.
"We felt like if we kept playing the way we had we would come out on top," Bylsma said.
The Sabres responded less than four minutes into the second period, albeit with some luck. O'Reilly tossed the puck on net from center ice and it skipped in over the stick of Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot. It wasn't quite David Legwand length, but it got the job done.
"I tried to put a little action on it, I guess," O'Reilly said, laughing. "I practice it all the time. It's a tough play for the goalie."
Video: BUF@EDM: O'Reilly nets second goal on odd dump-in
It was all Sabres from that point on. Gionta's first goal, a tip of a Jake McCabe shot in front of the net, chased Talbot 9:22 into the second period. Talbot would return later in the period when Jonas Gustavsson left due to injury, and finished the game having allowed six goals on 23 shots.
The Sabres have two more games in Western Canada, with Johnny Gaudreau and the Calgary Flames up next on Tuesday. If they follow the template of their win over the Oilers, this game may end up being a tone-setter.
"We want it too," Gionta said. "We want to keep that momentum. It's going to be another tough game in Calgary, of course. But it's a good start."
More success on the power play
Video: O'REILLY: Postgame Interview
With injuries to O'Reilly and Okposo in the preseason as well as the absence of Rasmus Ristolainen while he negotiated a new deal, the Sabres had little time to practice with a complete power-play unit in the preseason. So far, it hasn't mattered. Buffalo has three power-play goals through two games, and all three have come from the unit of Moulson, O'Reilly, Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart and Tyler Ennis.
Okposo played the role of assist man on the first goal. He caught the puck at the top of the right circle and, with his eyes fixed on the net as if he were going to shoot, threaded a pass through the defense to an open O'Reilly down low. O'Reilly buried the puck high.
Later, in the third period, O'Reilly fed Moulson for his second goal of the season.
"I think all of us read the game pretty well, so we're just kind of able to read off each other," Okposo said. "We put a few things in place yesterday and kind of talked about it before today. It's just kind of using your instincts and reading off each other."
The shutdown line returns
Bylsma had broken up the line of Foligno, Larsson and Gionta to begin the opener on Thursday, but they were on the ice to start game No. 2. They picked up right where they left off, serving as a brooding trio that can mitigate opposing teams' top lines by keeping the game in the offensive zone with a strong forecheck.
Larsson finished with 20:09 of ice time, second only to O'Reilly among Sabres forwards, and fed Gionta for his second goal in the third period. He also had multiple scoring chances himself that just didn't materialize into goals, and Foligno put two shots on net.
All of that came in spite of the fact that the line was matched up often with McDavid, who entered the game having scored six points (3+3) in two contests.
"We keep it simple," Gionta said. "A lot of times we're matched up against their top lines and we've got to be careful with the puck. I think that helps keep us in the honest in the neutral zone, not forcing too much, and that plays into our game plan."
Keeping McDavid off the score sheet was a complete team effort. Josh Gorges in particular stood out among the defensemen who played a physical game against McDavid to keep him in check.
"It's a tall task to keep Connor McDavid off the score sheet and he comes at you in a lot of different ways with a lot of speed," Bylsma said. "I think our guys did a great job of being on top of him tonight and keeping track of his speed and getting in his way."
The Sabres will practice in Calgary on Monday and then face the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday night. The puck drops at 9 p.m. Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B. The game can also be heard on WGR 550.