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Noted Thoughts: Game 1 vs. Ottawa
It was sloppy for both teams, but a 4-1 Sabres win is a pleasant result
BUFFALO — The first game of the season is great for a lot of reasons, mostly because it’s the start of real games, but also because it means seeing how training camp preparation pays off.
I’ve cited Mike Tyson’s line about how everyone has a plan until you’re hit in the mouth a thousand times, but that’s what the first game of the season is like. Teams prepare their lines, their special teams units, systems, and their goalies for games that matter and then suddenly you’re facing off against other teams who have all done the same in their own way.
First games always look a little rough around the edges and the Sabres 4-1 win against the Ottawa Senators was no different. There were blown coverages, loads of turnovers, mistakes aplenty, but it all comes out in the wash because everyone is coming from the same place. Rasmus Dahlin put it pretty well afterwards.
“I messed up a few times, but I forgot about them pretty quick, and we just kept pushing,” he said. “It’s the competing that matters. You saw the guys at the end there, we blocked so many shots. Shit happens out there but, we found a way to win and that’s what matters.”
Yes, shit happens, indeed, especially in the first game. It’s just one game out of 82, but there are a few things that stood out.
Rasmus Dahlin was a freakshow
It feels like we’ve been saying a monster season is coming for Dahlin since the end of last season, and how he played on Thursday night only enhanced that sentiment.
He was a confident, physical, and commanding player throughout the game. The goal he scored that gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead in the second period highlighted everything about him that has the Sabres confident he will shine. Look at this:
“I saw an opening, so I just went for it,” Dahlin said. “(Samuelsson), he’s backing me up, so I’m not scared of having the puck and I know he’s backing me up. So, I saw it and I went for it.”
That opening started by turning Mathieu Joseph inside out on his forecheck. Once he ripped by him, everything opened up and Ottawa was not prepared for Dahlin to make a home around the net after gaining the zone. But it’s the overall confidence in his teammates and himself that allows the goal to happen.
Knowing he has Mattias Samuelsson riding with him minding the defensive end allows Dahlin to rush the puck up ice. It also allows him the freedom to continue to press forward and create a scoring chance that ultimately winds up in the net behind Anton Forsberg. It’s one thing to do that and it’s something else entirely to do it and know you can count on the other four guys to make sure Ottawa can’t make something of it if it goes sideways.
The rise of the “Kid Line”
Confession time: I had designs on writing something about how the really young guys aren’t going to lead this team and patience will be needed for them as they grow. As Don Granato reminded me after the game, you have to be specific about which young guys you’re referring to because they’re the youngest team in the NHL.
My bad, Don.
Anyhow, the line of Peyton Krebs, Dylan Cozens, and J-J Peterka made me start to think harder about them after how well they played closing out the preseason. Of course, remembering it was just preseason games and the lineups are specious at best means you cool it on delivering judgment.
Good thing subscribing to the “ignore preseason games” mantra works because skepticism about how that line would work against all NHL talent in the regular season was waylaid for at least an evening.
That trio was dynamite all game long and forced the issue on the Senators’ defense all game. They forechecked strong and used their quickness to cause problems for them in pushing the puck up the ice and in Ottawa’s defensive zone. They were responsible for both of the goals scored against a goalie, and Peterka’s first NHL goal got the Sabres on the board first and it was a veteran-like give-and-go with Cozens pushing the Senators back on their heels that did the trick.
As first NHL goals go, that was a real beauty. It also showed that Peterka is as natural as can be when it comes to reacting to scoring your first goal.
“Just pure joy. I was like, ‘holy fuck.’ I was so excited. I don’t know, just speechless,”
We love happy swearing, don’t we? That’s pure. Peterka has been a beaming ray of sunshine throughout camp. Every day he’s smiling and excited about hitting the ice and it’s infectious. He and many of the other players, young and also young, have made a habit of staying out on the ice long after practice officially ended to just keep messing around and competing against each other more. Competition is a great thing to have.
Krebs showed his ability to make brilliant passes in his setup for Dahlin on his goal and his spot on the second power play is due to that ability. Each of those three has their own unique strengths and they all seem to complement each other’s abilities well.
For all that purity, there’s also a lot of determination from them and Cozens is the focus of that. Think about it, Cozens is entering his third NHL season at age 21 and he’s the old guy on that line. He also has the most experience which makes him the guy that has to drive the bus so to speak. He was outstanding against Ottawa and it didn’t go unnoticed.
“It’s really gratifying for me because I’ve challenged Dylan,” Granato said. “We know and I think our fans have come to know Dylan’s leadership potential and leadership ability at present, and now he has a lot of NHL experience. And you look tonight on his flanks, on his wings, and I’ve pushed him that now you’re going to see guys coming into the organization that are going to look up to you. And I thought he played a game tonight that was a man’s game. He looked like a seasoned NHL vet–strong on pucks, strong on faceoffs, and it was very impressive, and he is a guy that will lead by example. Very gratifying to see that.”
Listen, I’ve called it out since before camp opened that I expect Cozens to have a breakout kind of season. If it happens while his wingers are two guys younger than him, whew buddy, that would be something else. Again, it’s one game, but that was very impressive to see that line perform the way they did.
Hello, Mr. Anderson
It’s fun to cite The Matrix when a goalie with the last name “Anderson” shows he can dodge bullets like Neo and see through the code of the matrix and take over the situation. OK, let’s not get crazy here but Craig Anderson was very good against his former team.
He made 35 saves, stopped a couple breakaways, including one late against Tim Stützle.
Craig Anderson is a man, he’s 40…er, 41 so that’s way more impressive. He’s 6-2-0 all-time against the Senators now and even though some of Sabres Twitter was wondering why he was starting instead of shiny, new Eric Comrie, well, duh, you don’t deny a veteran goalie a start against his old team, especially when he keeps the temperature down when things heat up on the ice.
“I came in after the second, told the guys I'm 80 percent on breakaways,” Anderson quipped. “So, I've stopped four, the fifth one's probably going in, so we should probably clean that up.”
He’s got jokes but he’s also got a logical mindset.
“It's amazing to think he's 41 when you watch,” Granato said. “This is a young man's sport. The body is so important. And in this sport, you're in your prime as an athlete in your mid-twenties. And so, anything after that is just perseverance. And any guy that plays in the league after that is persevering. Tremendous, tremendous job tonight because we don't win that game tonight without him holding things down at really key moments.”
Anderson probably hates having it pointed out he’s the oldest current player in the NHL and he’s on the league’s youngest roster. There’s something quaint about that and it’s the sort of thing you’d see portrayed in a movie. The Sabres aren’t a storybook team after one game, but what they are is a team that continues to look on the bright side of life and roll with it.