Welcome to the very first “Knee Jerk Reaction” for the Buffalo Sabres 2013-2014 season. It may only be pre-season, but at least it’s something and the Sabres were back in action tonight against the Montreal Canadiens. The Sabres were led by fan favourite Steve Ott through tonight’s 5-4 shootout win, as he sported the “C” and was all over the ice laying hits.
Unfortunately for fans tonight’s game did not have the new first line of Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson and Marcus Foligno dressed. Instead the fans saw Mikhail Grigorenko centering Steve Ott and Ville Leino, a line that looked solid before a Leino injury last season. It was a great opportunity for fans to see Rasmus Ristolainen, Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett and Nikita Zadorov in blue and gold for the first time. It was a tremendous back and forth game that needed a shootout to crown a winner. It was a solid start to open the pre-season for the Sabres as Zemgus Girgensons stole the show with a pair of goals.
- Tonight fans got to see Luke Adam on the wing which is a change from his usual centre spot. Many believe this is Adam’s last chance to crack the Sabres roster. There really isn’t much room for him at centre, so the wing may be his best shot at making the team. Good on Ron Rolston for giving him a chance on the wing. Adam played on a line with Kevin Porter and Brian Flynn, but sadly the line looked invisible.
- A slightly alarming tidbit from the game, Mikhail Girgorenko does not like to back-check very hard. I’ll chalk it up to being the first pre-season game, but he does need to learn to back-check. Too many times he was standing still, floating while his man skated right by him.
- Talk about fighting for a spot. Zemgus Girgenson came out flying tonight, showing he does belong in the NHL putting up 2 goals tonight including a breakaway while shorthanded. Girgenson’s was flying all over the ice tonight and looked hungry to make his mark. He out-performed fellow 2012 draftee Grigorenko tonight and made his case to stick with the Sabres.
- Jhonas Enroth got off to a solid start but then let in two weak goals before Matt Hackett took his turn between the pipes. Enroth let in a weak goal through the five-hole and on over the shoulder as he made 10 saves on 13 shots. Hackett came in and fared much better, allowing just one goal and stoning the Canadiens during the shootout for a big win.
- As NHL ready as Girgenson’s looks, Rasmus Ristolainen also fits the bill as an NHL ready defenceman. He looked solid out on the blueline, heading the team in ice-time with Mike Weber and played in all situations. Ristolainen showed great poise and maturity on the ice and will prove to be another tough cut for the Sabres. Can the rookie crack the blueline? Also, fellow 2013 draftee, Nikita Zadorov has a very stellar showing in his first action.
- Yes it was just the first pre-season game and we shouldn’t read too much into it, but there were a few too many re-occurring themes tonight. The Sabres D once again looked weak (aside from Ristolainen), the Sabres passing early on was pitiful, the Sabres can’t seem to stay out of box and their special teams once again left something to be desired.
The Buffalo Sabres get the shootout win in their first pre-season game and all in all, played a solid game. Are there area’s where they can improve on? Heck yes, but it’s only the first pre-season game, a lot of regulars weren’t playing and there wasn’t a lot of chemistry. If Ristolainen, Zadorov and Girgensons can keep up their dominance throughout the pre-season there’s a good chance they’ll be starting the year with the Sabres.