Buffalo Sabres rookies Devon Levi and Zach Benson are seeking to prove they can be pivotal puzzle pieces for the 2023-24 season.
When you look at Devon Levi’s stats from this game, they were an ugly 26 for 30 with a meager 0.867 save percentage, but it’s hard to blame the kid for at least two of the four goals he allowed. While I’ll concede that Levi had a bad rebound in the first goal he let slip through, Henri Jokiharju looked like the 2022-23 version of himself, and was caught out of position before the ensuing goal from Alexis Lafreniere.
It was just a bad (or lack of) effort all around from Jokiharju, and Levi never had a chance to save it, nor the tip-in that occurred nearly 10 minutes later on the Rangers power play. Lance Lysowski of Buffalo News put it better than anyone else, and he had this to say about Levi’s performance:
"“Levi made 26 saves, helped the Sabres’ penalty kill go 3-for-4 on Thursday and, according to Natural Stat Trick, faced nine high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 while his teammates challenged Shesterkin with four.”"
I double-checked Natural Stat Trick earlier this morning, and that number has since increased to 10 at 5-on-5. Levi also saved 22 of 24 shots against at 5-on-5, good for a 0.916 save percentage, and 6 out of 7 high-danger shots. He also went a perfect 14 for 14 when facing low-danger shots, again at 5-on-5.
While the numbers you will see posted everywhere aren’t in Levi’s favor, he played far better than basic stats indicate. And that should be encouraging to Sabres fans wondering whether the rookie is overwhelmed with facing so much so early.
Buffalo Sabres rookie winger enjoyed an incredible debut
Zach Benson may have been on the wrong end of a penalty earlier in the contest, but it was a cheap play from a Rangers player grabbing his stick, so you can’t fault him there. Benson later drew a penalty, logged a pair of shots on goal out of four total shots, and he was also credited with a block.
What impressed me the most about Benson was his overall tenacity. We saw this when he kept digging at the puck near the crease late in the contest, which drew a scuffle between several Buffalo Sabres and Rangers players. Early in the game, Benson refused to back down from blueliner Jacob Trouba, showing us that he once again doesn’t care who he’s facing – no one’s pushing the kid around.
We don’t know what the Sabres will do with Benson following his nine games, but if he has a few more games like he had last night, then he at least did all he could to stick around. Like Levi’s numbers, Benson’s won’t pop out at you, but his overall play was good enough to once again raise eyebrows around the league.
(Additional statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)