Sabres fans were treated to the return of legendary TV and radio personality Rick Jeanneret on its recent road trip while promising rookie forward Nick Baptiste registered his first-career NHL goal, but Buffalo’s early-season road swing through Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver wasn’t anything to write home about.
Most likely, though, the Sabres’ 1-1-1 road trip will suit fans just fine after escaping the Western Conference road swing without incident.
Watching as players dropped like flies even before it departed Buffalo International Airport last week, the Sabres have had a rough go to begin 2016-17 to be sure. Devastating injuries to a pair of its premier offensive talents in Jack Eichel and Evander Kane have set the team back, but coming away with a win and three points — its first of the campaign — has to be considered a step in the right direction.
“We didn’t quit,” Marcus Foligno said after capping off the road trip with a 2-1 loss to Vancouver Thursday night. “It was a tough run, a quick game. There were some shifts we felt good but puck-management areas… Those Sedin boys — they’re good at countering, passing, breaking out of their own zone.”
Ryan O’Reilly picked up two goals and two assists, Brian Gionta scored twice and Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson also found the back of the net as Buffalo started the road stretch off on the right foot with 6-2 triumph over the Oilers on Sunday. The victory was a big confidence-booster for the team as well as for Okposo who tallied his first goal in his first game in the blue and gold after inking a mammoth, seven-year deal in free agency this past summer.
The Sabres nearly made it two in a row against the Flames on Tuesday, building a 3-2 lead 3:49 into the third period after Foligno put Buffalo in front for the third time in the game. Calgary tied it 1:03 later, however, and forced overtime before Sean Monahan won it in sudden death, but the Sabres still picked up a valuable point in the standings.
Jeanneret, 74, in his 45th season in a career that began with the Buffalo Sabres in the 1971-72 season, is the longest-active play-by-play announcer in the NHL. A Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame inductee in 2011, Jeanneret has battled through cancer to return to the broadcast booth much to the delight of Sabres fans. Up until recently, the St. Catherines, Ontario native has refrained from extended travel to the Western Conference.
Buffalo entered its game against Vancouver with the best penalty-killing unit in the National Hockey League, effective in killing off all nine shorthanded opportunities it was presented with, while its power play ranked among the top-10 with four goals through three games.
Though it finally yielded one to Daniel Sedin with the man-advantage late in the third period, the Sabres unit still ranks among the elite with a 92.9% efficiency (13-for-14) which ties it for sixth in the league. It failed to convert on the power play for the first time this season against Vancouver (0-for-5) after converting twice in its 6-2 triumph over Edmonton on Sunday but still maintains a respectable 19% success rate (4-for-21).
“We liked our special teams,” Foligno added. “Obviously we were perfect in both categories, pretty much, having a power-play goal in every game and the PK was perfect coming into tonight. They have a lethal power play with those Sedin guys. They make those plays around the net, a little tic-tac-toe around your guys, but we did pretty good almost all of the power-play on PK. It’s unfortunate they got a goal from them but at the same time just go back to the drawing board. They have a lethal power play. Next time, we just have to be better.”
Nick Baptiste First-Career Goal
After seeing 14 shifts and 8:50 of ice time in his debut against Calgary on Tuesday, Baptiste put one in the record books after being credited with a goal against Vancouver with 8:37 remaining in the third period. The goal from its highly-touted 3rd round pick in 2013 drew the Sabres back to within one but Buffalo could not gain the equalizer.
Baptiste fired the initial shot on goal before it caromed in front to Nicolas Deslauriers in the slot, who tried to get a stick on it. The puck bounced around again in the goal crease, off defensemen Jannik Hansen and Alexander Edler before crossing the goal line behind Jacob Markstrom.
“We’ve been emphasizing getting pucks to the net,” Baptiste said. “We’ve shot a lot the last couple of games so I just tried to get it to the net and obviously it was a fortunate bounce to kind of pin-ball in there.”
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 21, 2016
Baptiste, Hudson Fasching and Casey Nelson were all assigned to its AHL affiliate Rochester Americans on Friday, but all three could be recalled before the Sabres take to the ice again against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 25.
Tribute to Rip Simonick
Robert “Rip” Simonick is the only equipment manager the Buffalo Sabres have had in its 46-year history in the National Hockey League and on Tuesday, Oct. 18, the 2014 Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductee was honored before working his 3,500th-career game.
1st professional hockey equipment manager to ever reach this milestone.
Congrats, Rip Simonick! pic.twitter.com/CMyzupok8P
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 19, 2016
Hired by coach Punch Imlach in 1970, Simonick has been a fixture in the locker room since his beginnings as a fledgling stick boy, predating the Sabres with the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League. Performing errands or anything assigned to task by the legendary trainer and fellow Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Frank Christie, Simonick worked his way up to team equipment manager. The last original Sabres employee, his value to the team is arguably as important as any coach or scout in the organization.