After years of Regerian suffering and drowning in the tank, this was a moment a long time coming. The official new beginning. Or as the Buffalo Sabres marketing department puts it, Next Chapter. It was the much anticipated 2015-16 season opener against the Ottawa Senators.
A Feeling Much the Same
Much to the chagrin of the Sabres faithful, the first 40 minutes felt eerily similar to this past few seasons. Just 30 seconds into the game, the Senators took the crowd out of the game, deflating the First Niagara Center. Throughout the first two periods , the new Sabres looked like the old Sabres.
New day. Same story. The Sabres were getting outshot, out possessed and out chanced. The Sabres made costly turnovers and were inept at sustaining offensive zone pressure. Evander Kane and Jack Eichel looked more like Jiri Novotny and Norm Milley.
The slow start can likely be chalked up as a case of rust and first game jitters, but this will definitely be a point of emphasis for Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff. This was also a painpoint for the team during the preseason.
“We got pushed around,” Kane said. “We got outskated, outworked in the first period.”
It was a positive sign to see the Sabres come alive in the third period. Eichel became the best player on the ice and Kane rediscover his tenacious game. Ryan O’Reilly and his linemates Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson need to be more impactful moving ahead, but the line of Kane, Eichel and Zemgus Girgensons gelled late in the game and has all the makings of a tough matchup with its size, speed and physicality.
Look for the Sabres to come up guns blazing against the Tampa Lightning as Bylsma continues to teach his fast-paced, uptempo style.
Eichel Already Being Leaned On
If there were any ideas of Eichel being protected over the course of his first few games, those ramblings can go out the window. The 18-year-old wunderkind is already being thrust into crucial situations and leaned on.
Eichel played 21 minutes, 58 seconds, tying him with Kane. Rasmus Ristolainen was the only Sabre with more time on ice (23 minutes, 58 seconds). With the team trailing late in the third period, Eichel was depended on to win key faceoffs and was given plenty of opportunities to make a difference with lots of ice time down the stretch.
It will be telling to see how Eichel is used over the course of different games and different situations, especially when special teams take center stage. The rookie has already shown his propensity to create shorthanded opportunities, after scoring two goals while a man down in the preseason.
Coach’s Challenge is the Worst
A dumpster fire. That’s precisely the phrase to describe the new coach’s challenge. Forgetting the impact the challenge had on the outcome of this particular game, let’s look at it from a bigger perspective.
The biggest problem is that it completely killed the flow of the game. If every challenge is going to take an upwards of five, six minutes to complete, it would appear the NHL is trendy in the wrong direction. After the 2004 lockout, there was an emphasis put on making the game fast and sustaining the pace, but that seems to no longer be a concern.
— Charlie Fashana (@CharlieFlash23) October 9, 2015
“I was surprised it took that long tonight, to be honest,” Bylsma said. “I heard pretty early on it looked offside.”
Of course, it’s all about making the right call, but there clearly needs to be improvements to this process. Imagine a game winning Overtime goal being overturned after the players pour onto the ice. In something akin to looking for flags after a touchdown return, will fans now sit on their hands after a score, for fear of prematurely celebrating?
Let’s hope the NHL stays proactive on this front and continues tinkering until this process is done right.