The puck has dropped on the 2021-22 NHL season, and all 32 teams have begun the 82-game regular season in hopes of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Buffalo Sabres opened their season last Thursday, and despite coming into the season with some of the lowest expectations of any team in the salary cap era, they have been firing on all cylinders and showing the effort of a team that wants to win hockey games. In this edition of Sabres Weekly, the first of the 2021-22 season, read about the latest Sabres storylines heading into a new week.
Sabres Off To Hot Start
The Sabres are undefeated through their first two games of the season, holding a perfect 2-0-0 record at the time of writing. They managed to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in their home opener, an impressive 5-1 routing of a team fresh off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, before taking the win against the Arizona Coyotes a few days later, 2-1 in the shootout. Both performances gave fans a glimpse at what a well-coached Sabres roster is capable of, even if it lacks the star power and talent of the NHL’s top teams.
One thing in particular looks different about this season’s Sabres than last season’s: they’re actually challenging to play against. Craig Anderson, the new goalie signed by the Sabres in the offseason, described the team as being “young and naïve in its tireless approach,” while Cody Eakin described the team as “annoying.”
“We are harder to play against,” Eakin said in an interview after the shootout victory against the Coyotes. “We are always playing with speed on the forecheck, the backcheck, and it just kind of gets annoying, I think, to other teams.” (From ‘’Annoying’ Sabres improve to 2-0-0 with shootout win over Coyotes’ NHL.com, 10/17/2021)
“Not that there’s a big number of games that we’ve showed it, but consistently play like that – just playing as a team with speed, moving pucks up, funneling back, really just cutting off their rush before it starts – we’re going to be hard to play against,” Eakin continued.
Head coach Don Granato added to Eakin’s sentiment, saying that he’s giving every player the chance to play in high-pressure situations to get the experience needed to become a better player in the NHL. “You don’t learn to swim and not get wet,” Granato said. “So, we got to put them in situations with the confidence as a coaching staff that they’re going to be able to adjust and adapt.”
Sabres Veterans Leading the Way
While the entire Sabres roster has impressed in some fashion so far this season, it’s the team’s veterans that have been stepping up in a big way, namely the two players wearing the “A”: Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons. Okposo and Girgensons are two of the Sabres’ most experienced players, and have been members of the blue and gold for the longest of any players on the roster. They both look rejuvenated this season, with Girgensons playing in his first games since the 2019-20 season due to a season-ending injury he suffered during training camp ahead of the shortened 2020-21 season.
Okposo scored the Sabres’ first goal of the season against the Canadiens, while Girgensons, Eakin, Jeff Skinner, Victor Olofsson, Colin Miller, and Jacob Bryson all have two points through their first two games. All of these players regressed in one way or another last season, and none of them played as well as they could have. Much of that could be attributed to the team’s overall performance last season, coupled with former head coach Ralph Krueger’s ineffective systems, but the players bear the responsibility at the end of the day for their own personal stats. Seeing each of the players mentioned get off to a hot start is encouraging, to say the least.
Vinnie Hinostroza registered his first point in a Sabres jersey in the home opener, adding an assist on one of the Sabres goals. Anderson and Dustin Tokarski, the Sabres’ goalie tandem to start this season, split the team’s first two games, with each goalie notching one win and allowing just one goal apiece. While they’re not expected to play at that level all season, it has been nice to watch a steady presence command the goal crease for the first time in a long time.
Amerks AHL Season Kicks Off
The Sabres’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Rochester Americans opened their 66th AHL season this week, dropping a 6-2 decision to the Utica Comets at the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica, New York. Both of the Amerks goals came in the first period thanks to goals from Jack Quinn and Casey Fitzgerald, while Sean Malone added two assists, good for his first multi-point game of the season. Oskari Laaksonen and Brandon Davidson, two of the Amerks’ defenseman, each notched one assist in the loss. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen started in goal for the Amerks, and made 18 saves en route to a losing effort.
The Sabres Week Ahead
The Sabres look to continue their hot start to the season, facing off against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night for their next game. They finish out the week with a home game against the Boston Bruins, an away game against the New Jersey Devils, and one more home game before flying to the West coast to play the California teams and eventually making their way up to Seattle to play their first franchise game against the expansion Kraken.
Anderson will get his second start for the Sabres on Tuesday, while first-line center Casey Mittelstadt and first-pairing defenseman Henri Jokiharju are injured day-to-day with lower-body injuries. Defenseman Christian Wolanin was claimed off waivers by the Sabres, but it’s unknown whether he’ll suit up for the next game or not.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15