BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Sabres lost at KeyBank Center for the first time in five games dating to last season, 4-3 against the Florida Panthers on Saturday, and are now 1-1-0 following a two-game homestand to open the 2022-23 campaign. Here are four observations from the loss:
There are no standings points awarded for close losses in regulation, but the Sabres showed their mettle by battling beyond the final whistle against a team that claimed the President’s Trophy last season and won four meetings last year by a combined score of 22-11.
The Sabres responded twice to Panthers goals by scoring about a minute later. And they stood up to the physical challenge posed by Florida’s agitator Matthew Tkachuk.
“I love the compete out of our guys,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “Our guys played with a chip. They played hard.”
Granato lamented the Sabres lacking “ultra-competitiveness” at the start, when they didn’t put a shot on goal in the first seven minutes.
“But we started to initiate more as the game went along,” Granato said. “I loved that response. I thought this was an outstanding game two to have with a level this competitive. It showed a lot out of our guys. It’s exactly what we needed, and it’s the best way to get better.”
Florida acquired Tkachuk in an offseason trade to toughen up the top scoring team in the league, and his style got under the skin of several Sabres players. Tkachuk drew former USA Hockey teammate Alex Tuch into a shoving match early in the second period.
“That’s the type of hockey he’s going to play,” Tuch said. “It’s something that he wants to bring to the table. And I’d say a lot of us don’t really want to give him the time of day. But sometimes you have to stick up for your teammates.”
At the end of the game, Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin and Jeff Skinner each had to be separated from Tkachuk, and postgame roughing penalties were assessed to both Cozens and Tkachuk.
“There’s some guys over there I’ll be playing against for the next eight-plus years,” Tkachuk said. “Especially with some of the stuff that happened at the end that they did, we’ll remember that for a while.”
The next faceoff between the Atlantic Division foes is three months away on Jan. 16 in Buffalo.
“I can’t wait to play that team again,” Granato said. “There’s a fire in our guys that burned hotter every moment in that game.”
Buffalo’s search for a reliable goaltender to complement 41-year-old starter Craig Anderson led to signing Eric Comrie to a two-year, $3.6 million contract in free agency.
Despite the loss in his Sabres debut, Comrie performed well enough to be selected as the game’s third star. He stopped 33 of 37 shots, with of 14 his saves coming in the first period, including five on point-blank shots early on. Comrie saved 11 of 12 against Florida’s strong power play.
“He was outstanding,” said Zemgus Girgensons, who scored the Sabres’ second goal on a slick feed from JJ Peterka. “He made huge saves for us. In the first period, I think it could’ve been way different if he didn’t stand tall in the net.”
Comrie also recorded his second NHL point assisting on Tuch’s breakaway goal that opened the scoring midway through the first period. It was the first time a Sabres goalie got a point in his team debut.
The Sabres converted on 25% of power plays over the final 28 games of last season. With mostly the same units back, they have gone 0 for 8 through the first two games. Even with a 5-on-3 advantage for 24 seconds on Saturday, the Sabres couldn’t finish from in-tight.
“Today there were some broken power plays,” Granato said. “First game, we gripped our stick or were a little frustrated on the power plays. That will all settle in.”
On the other end, Buffalo has killed 9 of 10 penalties this season, but giving the Panthers four opportunities in the second period proved costly.
The Sabres “took too many penalties against one of the best power plays in the league, if not the best,” Tuch said. “I think that took us out of the game a little bit, ruins the rhythm.”
Counting the house
Paid attendance was announced at 11,481, about 60% of arena capacity, down from Thursday night’s opener drawing 15,364.
While the crowd was about 1,500 larger than last season’s average attendance, it was lackluster for a family-friendly matinee game against one of the NHL’s top teams. The opening crowd suggested local fans have renewed interest in the team. But if might have been more reflective of eased border restrictions attracting more Canadian fans.
The Sabres now embark on a four-game road trip out West, starting Tuesday in Edmonton. The next home game is Oct. 27 against Montreal.