In a game where Buffalo generated the most opportunities, it was the Lightning that ultimately capitalized.
Alex Killorn scored a power-play goal to give Tampa Bay the lead with 3:57 left to play and the Lightning defeated the Sabres 2-1 on Saturday night at Amalie Arena. Buffalo outshot Tampa Bay 32-22 in the loss.
“We did do a lot of good things but it’s frustrating,” Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly said. “I think we’re pissed off and a little embarrassed. We need to find a way to win that game. It’s not OK.”
Sam Reinhart scored the only goal of the game for the Sabres, the first of his NHL career, and Tyler Ennis earned an assist. Chad Johnson made 20 saves for Buffalo.
REINHART EARNS HIS PROMOTION
It took less than three minutes for Reinhart to prove that Bylsma made the right decision by putting him on the top line alongside Ennis and O’Reilly.
After his own shot was stopped by Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, Ennis retrieved the puck behind the net and fed a behind-the-pack pass to a charging Reinhart, who beat Bishop for his first goal 2:52 into the game.
“It was good. I felt that I’ve been getting a lot of opportunities and to finally see it go in was a relief for sure,” Reinhart said. “I felt great to be honest. I thought we created a lot of chances … with that being said we got our opportunities, we had our chances, [but] there are still some things to clean up.”
Coach Dan Bylsma decided on to promote Reinhart to the top line on Friday after his presence in front was consistently providing scoring opportunities for the Sabres in games prior. In Thursday’s loss to Florida, Reinhart set the screen the allowed Ennis to score a power-play goal in the third period.
Buffalo’s top line continued to succeed throughout the first period. Ennis alone outshot Tampa Bay, 5-3, and the three forwards combined to generate 10 shot attempts in the period.
“They probably led the way in the first period in how they played,” Bylsma said. “Sam gets the goal, I thought that line was pretty good offensively and we saw on the power play with him as well. He’s been great at the net.”
Reinhart’s goal marked the second-straight game and the third time this season that a Sabre scored his first career goal. Jake McCabe notched his first goal in Florida on Thursday and Jack Eichel scored his first in the Sabres’ opener on Oct. 8.
Both of Tampa Bay’s goals on the night came after Buffalo was unable to convert on scoring chances in front of the net. Seconds before Vladislav Namestnikov scored on a breakaway for Tampa Bay to tie the game in the second period, Jack Eichel was stoned on a one-time opportunity by Bishop.
They had more chances in the third, most prominently when Reinhart was unable to connect on a loose puck in front of the net when the Sabres were on the power play.
“There were some loose pucks in and around [Bishop] that we had opportunities at,” Bylsma said. “The second goal is not that different from the first goal – we get the power-play opportunity; we have a great chance from Tyler Ennis and a second chance from Sam. We don’t score and a few minutes later they get the power-play opportunity.”
With all of the quality chances the Sabres produced on Saturday, the game could have been a different story if not for the play of Bishop in net for Tampa Bay. The goaltender stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced and kept his team in a position to win the game.
“He’s big and he can play the puck – that’s probably one of the most noticeable things when you go on the forecheck,” Reinhart said. “He always makes that first save and he’s got a pretty good control and it’s tough to get it by him.”
THE START THEY WANTED
There was one resounding thought in the Sabres dressing room prior to Saturday’s game. After struggling in the first period throughout the young season, they needed to bring the intensity from puck drop.
Those words turned to action on Saturday night. Reinhart’s goal was the Sabres’ first goal in any first period this season, and Buffalo went on to outshoot the Lightning 16-3 in the opening 20 minutes.
“We competed right from the start. We didn’t ease into it to test the water. We got out there, we had good jump and we started right away,” O’Reilly said. “When you can do that, have that intensity right away, be a little confident, we’re supporting each other, we’re just a team … I thought for the majority of the time we played like that.”
“That’s how we need to play, that’s how we did play, and it was probably our best period of hockey,” Dan Bylsma said. “We’d like to play every period just like that.”
MAYDAY’S MOMENT OF THE GAME
“The Sabres showed up to play tonight. My moment is the opening faceoff, and watching every line and player that came on for their shifts play aggressively and confidently. I can see this team gelling in front of my eyes. The one player that really impressed me tonight was Sam Reinhart. He was on the hop.” – Brad May, Sabres TV Analyst
The Sabres will return to First Niagara Center to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday for the first of three games in a four-night stretch. Tops Sabres Gamenight begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B. The game can also be heard on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.