Matt Moulson said he had some rookie jitters at the start of his first game as a Buffalo Sabre on Monday. He got over those feelings pretty quickly, scoring twice in Buffalo’s 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars at First Niagara Center.
Moulson scored on his first shot on goal 3:26 into the first period to tie the game 1-1.
“Not going to lie, that was the most nervous I’ve been for a game since probably my first game I played in the NHL,” he said. “I had a bit of butterflies in the stomach and [the first goal] kind of settled me down out there.”
Sabres captain Steve Ott, in his first game as full-time captain of the Sabres, also scored, but Buffalo’s rally ended up coming a bit too late.
Vernon Fiddler, Alex Goligoski, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn scored for the Stars. Dallas held a 4-1 lead until Ott scored with 7:06 remaining in the second period. Moulson’s second goal came with 2:43 to play in the second to make it a two-goal game.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 22 shots in the win.
Sabres coach Ron Rolston was impressed with what he saw from Moulson.
“He’s a hockey player. Like in every zone, he’s solid. In our zone, D zone, he was solid,” Rolston said. “[He] plays his position, got pucks out on the wall, makes little plays through the neutral zone, gets to the net, give-and-go. He’s a hockey player. That’s all I can tell you. He’s good and I’m glad we have him.
Moulson was acquired the night before with a 2014 first-round pick and a 2015 second-round pick from the New York Islanders for co-captain Thomas Vanek. It was Moulson's second two-goal game this season and his eight goals put him in a five-way tie for fourth-most goals in the NHL. Moulson is a three-time 30-goal scorer.
“He goes to the net. That’s no secret. You score goals there and that’s why he gets 30 [goals] a year. He goes there,” Rolston said. “He has net presence and hopefully that rubs off on some more of our players.”
Ryan Miller 25 saves in goal for Buffalo.
The Stars capitalized early in the game as Fiddler tallied 2:59 into the contest.
Moulson answered 33 seconds later on a rush with Tyler Ennis. Coming down the left wing, Ennis faked a slap shot and passed the puck to Moulson, who wristed a shot over Lehtonen’s glove.
The first period ended with Dallas scoring twice more, one on the power play by Goligoski with 3:20 remaining and the other by Seguin with 2:08 left. The Stars went on the power play after Ott went to the box to serve two minor penalties. He was called for slashing and then unsportsmanlike conduct on the play.
“I hold myself accountable for taking a bad penalty and costing us a goal tonight. That’s simply not good enough, but for the rest of the boys, I thought our effort was really, really solid tonight,” Ott said. “You work hard like that most nights, you’re going to find ways to win games and we have to stick with this process.
Obviously it’s redundant in here and we’re saying it every single night it seems like, but tonight there were probably the most positive signs that I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Benn made it a 4-1 game with 9:05 remaining in the second, lifting a backhand up over Miller from in front of the goal.
The Sabres responded with two goals to close out the period, making it a one-goal game heading into the third period.
Ott scored on the power play with 7:06 remaining in the second on a heady pass from Mikhail Grigorenko. Moulson scored again by putting home his own rebound. He first deflected a shot from the point by Christian Ehrhoff and then put it past Lehtonen on the second effort.
The Sabres came close to tying the game and had some strong offensive zone pressure in the last minute of play with Miller pulled in favor of the extra attacker. Cody Hodgson had a backhand attempt stopped by Lehtonen with one second left in the game.
“We appreciate the fans’ reaction there. The guys were definitely trying to get something going, working hard and that’s a little bit of the help we need from time to time,” Miller said. “We know we can be better on the ice so we’ll get the right mix going, we’ll get the energy and we’ll get the game going. We’d love to have them like that every night.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff, who played and coached in Buffalo over a span of 25 years, was honored during the first television timeout with a highlight video shown to those in attendance. The video package featured clips of Ruff during his time both as a player and behind the bench. The game was Ruff's first in Buffalo since being relieved of his coaching duties in February.
“It was awesome. I’ve always said the fans of Western New York and this area have been tremendous,” Ruff said of the tribute. “I watched for a little while, but I thought I might get a little emotional, so I didn’t watch.
"Then somebody said I scored a crappy goal [in a replay] and I said, ‘I doubt that. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ They said, ‘It went off your shin pad.’ But that was first class by the organization and something they didn’t have to do.”