The Buffalo Sabres opened the 2021-22 regular season with a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens and were surprisingly dominant in this game. It was a collective effort from all four lines, as Casey Mittelstadt, who left the game with an upper-body injury, was the only player to skate less than 12:20 of ice time. Many early storylines can be created from this game, so let’s dissect how the Sabres looked during their home opener.
The Powerplay Was Excellent:
There was plenty of penalties drawn by both teams in this one, combining for 10 in total. However, the Sabres were capitalizing on every chance they had, scoring on three of their six power plays of the night. It all started in the first period, as Dylan Cozens rushed the puck into the offensive zone and skated around the net. He spotted Colin Miller on the half wall, who gave it back to Jacon Bryson at the blue line, and he took some time to evaluate his options. Ultimately, he passed it to Kyle Okposo, who scored a powerful wrist shot to open the scoring. Okposo turned back the clock in this game, looking like his former self during his days with the New York Islanders.
During the second period, the excellent puck movement led to the team’s second power-play goal. Jeff Skinner made a no-look backhand pass to Victor Olofsson, and he gave it back to Bryson at the blueline. Bryson waited for the extra second and passed it back to Olofsson, who skated a few additional steps to bury the wrist shot. The 26-year-old looked confident in this game, as he had hit the post on the previous power play.
There were limited fans at this game, as only 8,467 were announced by the Sabres. However, the ones that attended were quite ecstatic by the third period, especially when Tage Thompson scored the team’s third power-play goal of the night. Again, it came off great puck movement, and Thompson was quick to shoot after picking up the rebound.
Craig Anderson Thrived In Sabres Debut:
It was a promising debut for 40-year-old Craig Anderson, as he stopped 30 of 31 shots in this outing. He made some stellar saves to ensure the win, especially on the penalty kill. Cole Caulfied took three shots in this game, and he had multiple high danger scoring opportunities that were turned away by the Sabres netminder. The Canadiens took plenty of low percentage shots, as Anderson’s goals saved above expected (GSAA) was just 0.36.
Based on their offseason, many have doubted this Sabres team, with the team trading Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen and Jack Eichel requesting a trade. Anderson said with this team, “it’s not about what you don’t have, it’s what you do have.”
Sabres Put on a Full Team Effort
Despite the impressive showing with the man advantage, the Sabres looked dominant at even strength. All four forward lines were spending extra time in the offensive zone and generating scoring chances. Zemgus Girgensons scored his first goal since Feb 26, 2020, and it was a deflection off a Miller shot from the blueline. The team’s fourth goal came off six passes in transition, all the way from their end to the offensive zone. Anders Bjork had plenty of room to score on the rebound, and Ben Chariot gave him a clear shooting lane to the net.
The team’s defensive pairing was solid at limiting chances off the rush and forcing turnovers to create zone exits. Colin Miller had a standout game in this one, as he got two assists and had an expected goal for percentage of 75%. Robert Hagg impressed in his Sabres debut, as he blocked six shots and used his physical presence to hit and gain inside positioning.
The Sabres will face a familiar foe in their second game of the season, as Carter Hutton and the Arizona Coyotes will be in town. The team may accumulate a few wins in the opening stretch if they can keep up this level of play.
Jordan Jacklin is a freelance writer who covers the Buffalo Sabres here at The Hockey Writers. Jordan is a student at Ryerson’s Sport Media program and uses analytics and video scouting to evaluate your favourite players in the game.