For the Buffalo Sabres’ top line, it seemed like old times.
Reunited for the first time in game action since wing Matt Moulson was traded to Minnesota at last year’s trade deadline, the line of Moulson, center Tyler Ennis and right wing Drew Stafford generated a pair of goals in the second period to lift Buffalo to a 2-1 victory over Carolina in its first preseason game of the year at First Niagara Center.
Stafford opened the scoring with 8:08 to play in the period on a nice lead pass from Moulson. Ennis started the play along the boards in Buffalo’s half of the neutral zone and got the puck up to Moulson. Stafford too the pass and lifted a backhand shot past Hurricanes goaltender Anton Khudobin.
Ennis tallied with 1:52 remaining in the second after his rebound popped up in the air, deflected off Jordan Staal’s hip and into the back of the net.
“To get the line back together, as you can see we have great chemistry and I think we can be an extremely effective line going forward,” Stafford said.
Ennis said he was excited to have the line back together and Stafford echoed those sentiments. They saw time against some of Carolina’s better defenders like Jon-Michael Liles, Ron Hainsey and Tim Gleason.
“We have to be able to take care of the puck themselves. They may not have their full lineup, but at the same time, we have to be effective in our possession and hanging onto it,” Stafford said. “It is just preseason, but at the same time, we’re working on maintaining good habits and making sure we’re getting ready for the real deal. It was a great start.”
Jhonas Enroth made 35 saves to earn the shutout victory.
SHORT BENCH FOR THE DEFENSE
Defenseman Mark Pysyk played only 53 seconds. He went to the dressing room his first shift due to an upper-body injury and did not return to the game. That forced Buffalo to play with five defensemen for pretty much the entire game. The rest of the defensive corps (Josh Gorges, Tyler Myers, Andrej Meszaros, Jake McCabe and Andre Benoit) picked up the slack – and the minutes. Meszaros played a game-high 29:39.
“It was good to see how they responded. We had some maturity back there,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “You could see how important Gorges is going to be for this hockey team. They really took control and they were really poised back there. Myers got better as the game went on. I was very happy with the way the five defensemen played.
Nolan did not have an exact timetable for Pysyk’s return, but said he’ll be for “a little while.”
The Hurricanes sustained a big injury of their own. Jordan Staal left the game in the third period after taking a hit in the corner. There was no update available on his condition after the game.
A STRONG RETURN IN NET
March 16 marked the last time Enroth was between the pipes for Buffalo. He had to leave that game with a knee injury, forcing the end of his season. He said he came close to being cleared to return to the ice by the last game of the year, but that didn’t come to fruition and he was able to spend the summer rehabbing.
He’s in a goaltending battle with Michal Neuvirth for the No. 1 job, but the depth chart wasn’t on his mind during or after the game. He wasn’t busy early on as he saw only five shots in the first period, but things did pick up, particularly when Buffalo got into some penalty trouble in the second period.
“Obviously getting off to a good start is a good thing. I had a good first game, but it’s just the preseason,” Enroth said. “I went into this game to have good habits and work hard. Tonight it paid off.”
Nolan was impressed with Enroth’s performance.
“He was in control from start to finish of this game and for our team to have success this year, that’s the type of goaltending we’re going to have to have on a regular basis. I was really pleased with the way he played.”
Buffalo’s penalty kill went a perfect 4-for-4 against Carolina and they used a variety of personnel in those shorthanded situations. Meszaros led the way with 3:15 on the PK. One player that the Sabres would like to start using while down a man is Ennis and he got his first taste of the penalty kill on Tuesday.
He received word from assistant coach Bryan Trottier that he would be on the penalty kill unit against Carolina and Ennis is looking forward to adding another dimension to his game.
“He was really confident in my penalty killing abilities and I told him I hadn’t done it before,” Ennis said. “He said, ‘You’ll be fine. You’re a smart player. You’re fast.’ He was surprised I hadn’t done it before.”
Ennis’ speed is on the forecheck could produce more offensive opportunities for Buffalo and could even lead to a few shorthanded goals. The Sabres ranked in the bottom half of the League with five shorties last season.
“I have to learn the ins and outs of the forecheck and in zone but if I can catch teams sleeping, I’m going to try,” he said.
The chemistry between Ennis and Stafford was evident even when on the defensive.
“There as one situation there were me and Enzo had to switch up top and he just [made] a seamless switch,” Stafford said with a laugh. “I didn’t have to say anything to him so he’s a natural.”