ANAHEIM - It took until the sixth game of his first season for Phil Housley to earn his first win as an NHL head coach, and by the time all it was all said and done, all he wanted to talk about was his pride for the effort of his players.
"It's great to get your first win obviously," Housley said following a 3-1 win in Anaheim on Sunday night. "To do it on the road is great. But this isn't about me, it's about those guys in that locker room. They've been through a lot and they found a way to win tonight on the road, in a tough building.
"They gutted it out, stayed the course and I'm just really proud of them."
Video: Sabres defeat Ducks, 3-1, for first win
Indeed, the Sabres have seen their fair share of trials so far in a young season. On their current road trip alone, they had lost games in San Jose and Los Angeles when Housley felt they deserved better. But with the losses piling, the Sabres buckled down in Anaheim and rose in the face of adversity.
They controlled the pace of play at the start of the game, they responded with a goal of their own after their shorthanded woes rearose in the second period, and they weathered the final pushes from Anaheim in the third until Johan Larsson scored into an empty net from near center ice to seal their first victory.
"There's a lot of ways that they could have turned in the wrong direction, but they just stuck with it," Housley said. "I thought in LA, they deserved better. I thought that was a really good step forward but tonight they grinded it out and found a way to win."
With the Sabres playing the second leg of a back-to-back set and their third contest in four nights, Housley thought it was critical that they conserve energy by making sound decisions with the puck in the early going.
That's exactly what they did. After Justin Bailey scored to give them the lead on his first shift of the night, Buffalo played a simple game and was the dominant team through the first 20 minutes.
"We didn't put ourselves in a position where we wasted energy going back. Puck decisions were critical for us because of the energy, and once we were in the offensive zone we did a really good job of protecting pucks, wearing them down, and I thought we had that shot mentality," Housley said.
A familiar story seemed to be unfolding when Chris Wagner scored on a shorthanded breakaway to tie the game at 1-1 in the second. It was the fifth shorthanded goal allowed by the Sabres, surpassing their total from last season.
But on this occasion, the Sabres found a way to respond. Benoit Pouliot forced a turnover on the forecheck, and the puck dribbled to the slot where Sam Reinhart clashed with Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler. The puck deflected off of one of their sticks and into the net with 32 seconds remaining in the second period.
Video: BUF@ANA: Pouliot capitalizes on turnover late in 2nd
The goal was initially credited to Reinhart, but a scoring change gave it to Pouliot. Reinhart thought the puck touched his stick, but was happy to see it go in either way.
"We were all thrilled that it went into the net," Reinhart said. "More importantly we came out in the third with that lead and played a smart hockey game. They had their pushes, but we stuck with it."
The Sabres now have a chance to split their four-game road trip with a win in Vegas on Tuesday night. For as well as they thought they played in San Jose or Los Angeles, you can expect a more confident team now that they have win No. 1 under their belt.
"I know there's a lot more guys who are confident in their abilities now than they have been in recent times, and I'm looking forward to the next one as well," Reinhart said. "At this point I want to just keep playing because it's been a while since we've felt like this."
Bailey's strong start
Despite a strong training camp, Bailey had to wait a couple of weeks into the season before earning his first recall on Sunday morning. Once he got here, it only took one shift for him to find the back of the net:
Video: BUF@ANA: Bailey jams home loose puck to open scoring
"I think we've been preaching on getting pucks to the net and the good results that can come from that," Bailey said. "The play was pretty simple. I came off the bench, we got pucks to the net and caused a little confusion and I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time."
Housley said the Sabres recalled Bailey to give the team a "shot in the foot." He was that and more early, using his speed to win battles and finishing the period with a team-high three shots despite seeing just 2:53 of ice time.
"I think he provided that spark we needed," Housley said. "Not because he scored, I thought he used his speed well tonight, he was tenacious on the forecheck coming back hard."
Johnny on the spot
Here's a fun fact: The Sabres' franchise record for saves in a regular-season shutout belongs not to Dominik Hasek or Ryan Miller, but to Chad Johnson. Johnson set the mark with a 44-save performance against the Ducks in Buffalo on Dec. 17, 2015.
Johnson wasn't tasked with making 40-plus saves on Sunday, but he was certainly in top form against the Ducks. The netminder came up with big save after big save in the second period, like this one on Josh Manson:
Video: BUF@ANA: Johnson denies Manson with glove save
Or this one on Nick Ritchie, which was ruled no goal after a review:
Video: BUF@ANA: Johnson seals post on Ritchie
Johnson concluded his night having made 25 saves.
"Tonight I felt good with my preparation just like I have at the start of the season," he said.
"Guys did a good job battling in front of me, clearing rebounds away. I had some juicy ones there so they did a good job. It's just nice to get rewarded as a team, to get the win when we deserved it."
Josefson leaves due to injury
Sabres forward Jacob Josefson did not play in the third period after sustaining an injury in the second.
With the addition of Bailey, the Sabres are currently traveling with 14 forwards on their roster. Seth Griffith sat as a healthy scratch Sunday, while Kyle Okposo may return to the lineup in Vegas on Tuesday after missing the last two games with an illness.
The Sabres will conclude their four-game trip against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night. It will be Buffalo's first-ever matchup with the NHL's newest expansion team.
Coverage on Tuesday begins at 9:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 10 p.m.