STATE COLLEGE, Penn. - With scoring chances abound, a large lead in shots and some solid play in net, there was plenty to like about the Sabres' first game of the preseason against the Minnesota Wild on Monday night. The only thing that didn't end up on their side was the score - 2-1 in favor of Minnesota.
Evander Kane took a penalty with 32.2 seconds remaining in a 1-1 tie to give the Wild a 4-on-3 power play, and Jason Zucker took advantage with a one-time goal to earn the win for Minnesota with 4.6 seconds left on the clock.
Shots don't count the way goals do, but they're significant in the first preseason game. The final tally on Monday was 40-31 in favor of the Sabres, and that includes an early flurry of shots from Minnesota on its first power play early in the first period.
"They got seven shots on the first power play, we got 16 shots in the next 15 minutes," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said afterward. "That's the way we want to play."
The one goal the Sabres did score came off the stick of Zemgus Girgensons with 3:35 remaining in the first period. Marcus Foligno began the play by cutting to the net and taking a shot from in-tight, off of which Justin Bailey grabbed the rebound and made a good pass through the zone to Casey Nelson. Nelson took a shot from the point that bounced off the pad of goaltender Alex Stalock.
Girgensons, alone in the slot, wound up and put the rebound in the back of the net. It was an opportune goal for a player who had trouble finishing last season, when his point total dipped to 18 from the 30 he scored a season prior.
Girgensons said this weekend that his goal at camp is to prove he's back to old form. From talking to his coach, Monday seemed like a step in the right direction.
"Zemgus is kind of a heart-and-soul, gutsy player," Bylsma said. "A player that's got to work hard in all areas of the rink and bring that to the offensive zone. That's what we've got to see from Zemgus and, again, he's going to get plenty of opportunity to do it here and he did tonight."
Nelson, who earned the primary assist on Girgensons' goal, was equally impressive throughout the game. He played on Buffalo's top pair along with Josh Gorges as well as on the top power play unit. He put the puck to the net when given the chance on offense and was strong in his own zone.
Video: Recap: MIN at BUF
"He's had a very good camp," Bylsma said. "He's had a commanding camp. He's been on the ice, really kind of dictating and controlling the play and I thought he was tonight. Not only on that play but on the power play. He looks like a seasoned, strong NHL veteran on the backside."
Nelson, 24, scored four points in seven games at the end of last season after he signed as a college free agent out of Minnesota State, averaging 14:49 of ice time. He stayed in Buffalo to train throughout the summer, and looks poised to build on that strong stint going forward.
"It's another opportunity each time I get it," Nelson said. "That's what I've got to take it as. Can't get comfortable, I've just got to keep working."
Impressive debut for Nilsson
Anders Nilsson got the nod in net for the Sabres to start the contest and was solid in his debut. In two periods of action, Nilsson made 26 saves on 27 shots, with the loan goal allowed coming on a rebound attempt from the slot.
He rebounded from that goal, scored by Gabriel with 7:26 remaining in the second period, and ended his performance with a quick glove save on a slap shot from Marco Scandella.
Video: Nilsson discusses the 2-1 preseason loss
The Sabres acquired Nilsson from St. Louis in July in exchange for a fifth-round pick. Bylsma said he was pleased with Nilsson's performance during the first three practices in camp and during the intrasquad scrimmages in particular, and Nilsson continued his strong start on Monday.
"I've been feeling pretty good so far," he said. "It's still early. I mean, I'm not satisfied. I'm just trying to prepare myself for the season. My job is to stop the puck so I'm trying to do that every day when I come to the rink, no matter if its practice or a scrimmage or a preseason game."
Ullmark allowed one goal on three shots in relief.
"Thank you Terry"
That was the chant coming from the Penn State student section when the puck dropped, and again during a video tribute played in the second period. Sabres owner Terry Pegula made a $112 million donation to fund the college's hockey program's rise to NCAA Division I, including the state-of-the-art Pegula Ice Arena.
Much like HarborCenter, Pegula Ice Arena houses two rinks to accommodate both the college's men's and women's programs. Interactive touch screens can be found throughout the concourse, as well as plenty of homage to past and present teams. Look closely and you'll even find a few nods to the Sabres.
The crowd was certainly on the Sabres' side against the Wild.
"The facilities are unbelievable," Girgensons said. "The locker room and everything was nice. It was definitely fun to play here."
Coming up next
The Sabres are back in action Tuesday at home against the Ottawa Senators. Tickets are still available with puck drop set for 7 p.m.
The Senators will be bringing the big guns to KeyBank Center, with Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman and Dion Phaneuf among those expected to make the trip. Check back for the morning skate report on Tuesday to find out who will be in the Sabres lineup and tune into the game live on MSG or listen on WGR 550.