There was plenty of excitement at First Niagara Center for the start of a new season in Buffalo. A new era began. The Next Chapter got off to a slow start with the Sabres falling to the Senators 3-1 before a sellout crowd of 19,070.
Even with Ottawa spoiling the welcome party for Sabres 2015 second overall pick Jack Eichel, he didn’t disappoint. The 18-year old American phenom scored his first goal in his NHL debut. Even though it was the only one Buffalo got, there’s plenty for Sabre fans to be excited about. In his first game, Eichel had a sweet finish for a power play goal that put the Sabres within 2-1 with 10:49 left in regulation. He took a feed from Marcus Foligno and found enough room to beat Craig Anderson.
“I think what we did on that play, we should’ve done more of the entire night,” Eichel told MSG in a post game interview. “As a group on the power play, we were able to outwork them and get the puck back. Moose made a great pass to me. Back side of the net and I was able to beat the goalie. It was a nice feeling. It started to get us going. We had some chances after that but we weren’t able to capitalize.”
In his first game, Eichel tied with line mate Evander Kane for the most ice-time (21:58) among Buffalo forwards. Another new Sabre, Kane finally made his debut after coming over from Winnipeg last trade deadline. He missed the rest of 2014-15 due to shoulder surgery. Kane nearly tied it late but had a shot go off the goalpost right back to Anderson who smothered the puck for a stoppage. He had a secondary helper on Eichel’s goal.
“I’ll take the first goal the way it was. But it would’ve been a lot sweeter if we were able to finish off the comeback,” Eichel added.
“Our compete wasn’t there,” Kane said of the first two periods that saw the Sabres fall behind 2-0 on a pair of Kyle Turris goals and get out-shot 18-13. “We weren’t hard enough on the puck. … They outworked us. Outskated us. And obviously there was a higher sense of urgency in the third period. We need to have that from the start of the period.”
The Sabres did have an apparent tying goal waved off after Ottawa correctly challenged that the play was offside. The replay showed that Eichel was just ahead of the play which negated the goal. One of the NHL’s new rules allows coaches to challenge plays in question. It’s already been used with success on goalie interference and on the Sabres goal which was correctly overturned. It’s an interesting wrinkle players, coaches and fans have to get used to.
”Well it’s huge. It’s a goal they scored and it doesn’t count,” Ottawa coach Dave Cameron said, who passed the credit to assistant coach Jason Smith for suggesting the challenge. ”We really had nothing to lose in calling it.”
Along with the new 3-on-3 overtime which turned into a roller derby in Tampa with the Lightning and Flyers taking turns on breakaways. There was even a sequence following a Tyler Johnson near miss off the post where Flyers rookie Scott Laughton drew a penalty shot. But he was unable to beat Ben Bishop who went 2-for-2 on penalty shots also denying Claude Giroux in the first period. Eventually, a Flyers turnover led to Jason Garrison going in on a clean breakaway and beating Steve Mason with a backhand five-hole to give the Lightning a heart pumping 3-2 OT win.
Edmonton 2015 first overall pick Connor McDavid also made his NHL debut in a Oilers 3-1 loss at the Blues. He didn’t record a point and had two shots in 18:07 (22 shifts) while losing 7-of-10 face-offs. The Oilers pulled former Rangers goalie Cam Talbot for an extra attacker in the final minute. New Blue Troy Brouwer scored into an open net sealing the win for St. Louis who got the winner from Robby Fabbri with 10:31 left in the third. Talbot finished with 28 saves.
Also of note, the Wild used a four-goal barrage in less than six minutes to stun the Avalanche 5-4. Trailing 4-1, Minnesota scored four times in a 5:07 span during the third period erasing a three-goal deficit on the road. Zach Parise scored a hat trick with his third of the game coming on the power play with 9:46 left. That proved to be the winner. Thomas Vanek also tallied the tying marker following Nino Niederreiter 2:13 later while Colorado coach Patrick Roy fumed on the Avs bench. His team was sloppy and paid the price.
In another game, the Bruins were humiliated by the Jets 6-2 at home. They struggled defensively without captain Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. David Pastrnak did have a goal and helper with a sweet finish pulling them within 3-2. But Winnipeg got the final three highlighted by Chris Thorburn surprising Tuukka Rask after he flubbed a backhand in front. Jets rookie Nicholas Petan also scored his first. Returning Russian Alex Burmistrov had an empty netter and assist.
The new look Pens weren’t able to solve new Stars goalie Antti Niemi who stopped all 37 shots in a 3-0 shutout at Dallas. In particular, he had Phil Kessel’s number robbing him point blank a couple of times. Kessel had six shots and 13 attempts with four missing its target. Evgeni Malkin also was frustrated after getting nabbed for a hi-sticking minor which he believed was a follow through. Pens penalties eventually dashed any hopes of a comeback with Stars captain Jamie Benn redirecting a Jason Spezza shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to conclude the scoring. Ales Hemsky had a goal and assist.
The Predators held off the Canes 2-1 for a home win in Music City. The Preds used first period tallies from Craig Smith and rookie Viktor Arvidsson to edge Carolina. Seth Jones registered two assists and Pekka Rinne made 25 saves. Carolina got on the board with 1:40 left when captain Eric Staal was credited for his first when a shot banked off Shea Weber’s skate past Rinne. With Cam Ward (23 saves) on the bench for an extra attacker, Jeff Skinner fanned on a great chance with a gaping net. The Canes ran out of time.