The Big Picture: The Buffalo Sabres began their lockout-shortened season in most impressing fashion, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-2 in front of sold out, fired up home crowd. Thomas Vanek played hero with a point on all five goals, including two tallies himself. It was the first five-point game by a Sabre since Drew Stafford had five against Atlanta on January 18, 2008. We’re only one weekend into the season, folks, but guess who’s currently leading the NHL in scoring?
Big Drew: It can’t be stated enough how important Stafford was to his team Sunday. When Philly tough guy Scott Hartnell drilled Tyler Ennis from behind in the second period, Stafford immediately sought him out and dropped the gloves. While Stafford didn’t really “win the fight” he held his own and far more importantly, earned a lot of respect from teammates and fans. It was an opening day statement that this team won’t be bullied around like they were last year.
“Everyone in this lineup is trying to hold each other accountable to be harder to play against, and that falls into that category.” Stafford said in the locker room after the game.
Solid Debut: Steve Ott didn’t take long to make his presence felt on the ice. Acquired in an offseason trade with Dallas for Derek Roy, Ott scored the season’s first goal on a beautiful one-timer from Jason Pominville, who had three assists on the day. Ott led the team with five hits on the day and it’s easy to see he’s become an instant fan favorite.
Grigo Contributes: Many wondered how 18-year old rookie Mikhail Grigorenko would fare in his first NHL game. The answer was not bad. Grigo didn’t play all that much, earning 15 shifts and 11:13 in ice time, but he had two shots on net, set up Ott for an excellent scoring chance and drew a tripping penalty. He still has four more games before Buffalo needs to decide to keep him or send him back to juniors, and the feeling here is he has an excellent chance of staying.
He certainly has the endorsement of his line mate Ott, who told reporters the following post-game “I feel bigger with him out there. That kid’s a beast already. You know he set the table, I kinda feel a little bit bad he set the table, I kinda almost had a gimme there on the side of the net. I wish I would’ve put it in for the kid, but you know what, this kid’s going to be real good. Obviously, I think it started tonight, people are going to start recognizing the stamina in a heartbeat and if I can stick with him for a while, obviously I’ll ride his coattails.”
Solid In Openers: Ryan Miller continued his stellar play in season openers, improving to 6-1-1 in season debuts. Overall Buffalo improved to 24-14-4 in season openers and 17-4-4 at home.
Rabid Fans: If there are negative effects of the NHL lockout that wiped away part of the season, Buffalo Sabres fans never got the memo. The crowd was as lively as ever throughout most the game and as NBC reported, the team sold over $2 million in merchandise during their 50% off sale at the official team store throughout the week.
What’s On Tap: As will often be the case this season, there’s little time to bask in the glory of a win. Buffalo is in Toronto tonight to take on the Leafs. Buffalo has went 6-4 against the Leafs in their last 10 meetings, but only 4-6 on the road. The Sabres will then be off for a few days before facing Carolina in a home and home series beginning Thursday.