WASHINGTON, D.C. – Training camp for the Buffalo Sabres this year has put an emphasis on setting a tone.
Coach Ted Nolan believes in having his players battle hard every second of every shift. Coming into the first preseason game of the season Sunday evening, the line chemistry may not have been there right away, but the players’ work ethic pleased the coaching staff.
While the Washington Capitals skated away with a 1-0 victory on Sunday at Verizon Center, the Sabres will look to build off a strong third period in which they outshot the Capitals 12-7.
“The one thing we tried to address from Day One of camp was effort, the way we compete and the way we battle,” Nolan said. “That doesn’t take a skill set, it just takes a will. These guys battled hard. That was a good team we played tonight, so I was happy with the effort.”
Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby were showcased before the home crowd while Sabres’ lineup featured many young players with limited NHL experience and other players that will be battling for NHL roster spots.
Sabres center Mikhail Grigorenko, whose line with Vaclav Karabacek and Brian Flynn generated many quality scoring chances, thought his squad showed well against a more experienced Capitals team.
“I thought we competed really well out there and it was a really close game,” he said. “For sure, we deserved at least a goal. All the guys played really well so it was a great effort.”
THE LONE GOAL
The Capitals took a 1-0 lead when Andre Burakovsky scored with 6:47 to play in the first period. From behind the net, Jason Chimera eluded the Sabres defense and found Burakovsky in front, who then roofed a wrist shot past Nathan Lieuwen. Burakovsky hustled down the ice from the far bench to break up Buffalo’s defensive zone coverage.
“It was a great shot. But it’s one of those things where I feel like I can stop everything,” Lieuwen said. “That’s one I’d like to get my elbow on and I’ll keep working at it.”
ONE GAME IN
Sam Reinhart, Buffalo’s top pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, played his first preseason game for the Sabres, centering a line featuring Nicolas Deslauriers and Joel Armia.
He said he felt that he adjusted well to the speed of the professional game.
“The start, I didn’t have the puck as much as I usually do. But I think as the game went on, especially in the third, our line started having the puck more and time in the offensive zone. I thought I adapted pretty well.”
Nolan was impressed with Reinhart, Lieuwen and many of the other young players in the game.
“As the game progressed, I thought he really adjusted to the speed of the game. Grigorenko played pretty well. There were a few, but probably the one that really stood out was [defenseman Rasmus] Ristolainen. I thought he was a horse for us all night. He made some good plays. He played very poised.”
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Lieuwen played the entire game for Buffalo, turning aside 24 shots and looking composed in his first game action since sustaining a concussion on April 6.
He’d been a full participant in the team’s development camp in the summer and said he’s felt fine since for a few months now. He’ll be in a position to battle for the starting job with the Rochester Americans.
And even though he’d like to have the goal back against Washington, he felt good about his game.
“I thought it was solid. Obviously you want to come out with a win every time, but I thought it was a good start for us,” he said. “I think we showed a lot of good things out there.”
Pheonix Copley started the game for Washington and stopped all six shots he faced in the first period. Braden Holtby came in to start the second period. He made 19 saves.
What was the big difference for the team in the third period that led to more offensive chances?
“I think the way we competed. We used our legs, we used our speed, we used our enthusiasm. We got the puck and attacked. They’re an experienced team. They pinched down on our young defense and our young wingers a number of times to get the puck in our zone.
“But as we progressed, we made a couple of adjustments and as [assistant coach] Bryan Trottier said in between the second and third periods, ‘Jeez, we made a little adjustment. They caught on.’ They did what we asked. Overall it was a great effort.”
The Sabres return to practice on Monday with two sessions starting at 10 a.m. They then host the Carolina Hurricanes at First Niagara Center on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
As the preseason goes along, Nolan said more and more veteran players will begin suiting up for games.
“Right now, it’s early. We gave a couple of kids a good look to see how they battled,” he said. “One thing we saw tonight, they certainly battled.”