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Eichel tallies 4 points, Johansson scores OT winner vs. Habs

Sabres improve to 3-0-1

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

With a back-and-forth game in the balance and the Sabres set to start overtime with an extra man, Ralph Krueger turned to his veterans. 

The Sabres had 1:25 remaining on their fifth power play of the night when they took the ice for overtime against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. Krueger sent out a left shot in Marcus Johansson, plus three righties in Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Colin Miller. 

The power play had just expired when Miller caught a rebound to left of the net and sent a pass through the middle to Johansson, who buried a one-timer for his second goal with the Sabres. 

"The plan we had didn't quite work out," Johansson admitted afterward. "I mean, we didn't execute it right. But we stuck with it and I think we got a little bit of a lucky bounce. That's what happens when you shoot the puck. I ended up getting the winner."

Video: Johansson's OT winner lifts Sabres past Canadiens

The goal clinched a 5-4 victory for the Sabres on a night in which they surrendered a two-goal, third-period lead to the hard-pressing Canadiens. Like their overtime loss in Columbus on Monday, Krueger chalked it up as a hard night of lessons learned with a positive result in the standings. 

"First and foremost, we're happy to come out of a game with a win where we definitely didn't have the structure defensively we want to have, but we all know we're in the beginning of a hard, long season of growth and learning," Krueger said. "The language is right on the bench and in the room."

"You have to give a compliment to the way Montreal plays. They come hard. They come with four. They cycle extremely quick and battle hard and with a lot of grit for pucks and retrievals. It was a high-level of offense coming at us all night and we have to learn to play against that. Again, if we can learn off a win, we'll take that anytime."

With those lessons, the Sabres are off to their best start since the 2009-10 season at 3-0-1. This latest win came with plenty to unpack: a dynamic four-point outing from Eichel, another goal from the rookie Victor Olofsson, and a continuation to the team's red-hot start with the extra man.

Let's start with the power play.


Playing with power

Johansson's winner technically didn't count as a power-play goal as Philip Danault had just left the penalty box when the puck crossed the goal line. Still, the Sabres went 2-for-5 with the extra man and finished the game with a league-best eight power-play goals.

Olofsson opened the scoring at 5:04 of the first period with his fourth goal in as many games, a rocket one-timer from the right circle fed by a pass from Eichel. The rookie now has six goals in 10 NHL games, all of which have come with the extra man. 

Craig Norwich, Sylvain Turgeon, and Jeff Norton are the only other players in NHL history to score their first six goals on the power play. 

Video: MTL@BUF: Olofsson buries wrister from circle for PPG

"It's a great power play right now," Olofsson said. "We got a lot of confidence out there. I feel like all five guys can score, which makes it hard to defend against."

With the variety of threats on the top unit - which consists of Eichel, Olofsson, Reinhart, Jeff Skinner, and Rasmus Dahlin - opposing penalty kills are forced to picks their poison. When the Canadiens leaned toward Olofsson on the Sabres' second power play, Eichel buried a shot off the post from his off wing.

Video: MTL@BUF: Eichel snipes wrister from circle for PPG

"We're in a league of pre-scouting and analysis to the depths of everything somebody does, but on that power play you have no idea what's going to come at you and they're really good at not being stuck in a tunnel somewhere," Krueger said. 

"Even though Victor may seem like a threat all the time, we have threats at all those other four positions. There's a lot of movements and a lot of exchanges going on. We're pleased with that."


Jack attack 

Eichel admitted he was frustrated with his game in Columbus on Monday. How's this for a rebound: two goals, two assists, and eight shots. That latter tally doesn't include a pair of attempts that hit iron as the Sabres captain attacked during a power play in the second period. 

"He can be so dominant," Johansson said. "He can take over the game. What he can do with the puck, with the size he's got, it's so impressive to watch. It's fun to watch up close."

Eichel's aggressive mindset was most evident on his second goal, when he stared down three defenders on an end-to-end rush and buried a shot between the pads of Canadiens goalie Keith Kinkaid. 

Video: MTL@BUF: Eichel goes end-to-end and rips shot home

"What he did tonight is not surprising for me because I've been watching it now since the 13th of September. Jack is just one of the very elite players in the league and his game isn't even near complete," Krueger. 

"So, I'm just really excited to be coaching a player with that skill set. I'm going to work hard every day to try and help him get better."


Lessons learned

The Sabres extended their lead to 4-2 on Skinner's third goal of the season, scored on a feed from Johansson 47 seconds into the third period. The Canadiens answered with a goal from Jesperi Kotkaniemi less than a minute later and tied the game off the stick of Ben Chiarot with 7:06 remaining.

Carter Hutton helped the Sabres make it to overtime with a strong finish to his 23-save outing. Skinner broke down how the Canadiens turned momentum in their favor and what the Sabres can take from it.

Video: MTL@BUF: Skinner tucks silky backhander past Kinkaid

"To me, a lot of it stems from how they play," he said. "They're a good transition team and if you feed that transition they can come back and they can hurt you in a hurry. That's why I think you saw it. When we got a little sloppy and when we fed that transition game, they've got some real good players, they've got some D-men who jump up in the rush, and it's tough to make up for those mistakes.

"... This time of year, I think you always want to pick up points when you can at the same time realizing there's things that are going to happen, breakdowns are going to happen, and you're going to have to work through those things."


Up next

The Sabres continue their three-game homestand against the Florida Panthers on Friday. Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7.

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