At 40 and opening his 19th NHL season, Sabres goalie Craig Anderson has been around long enough to realize it’s not about what star players a team might be missing, or how inexperienced the roster.
“I think first and foremost, it’s not what you don’t have, it’s what you do have, and that starts with our leadership,” Anderson said, following a 30-save outing in Buffalo’s stunning 5-1 season-opening win over the injury-depleted Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.
“We are a team that’s young, can skate fast and is going to make mistakes, but they’re going to do it out of passion,” he added. “I think we’ve got a little bit of naiveness right now, too, where we’re just going out there and playing what we’re told to do.”
Assistant captains Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons stepped up by scoring Buffalo’s first two goals. And Victor Olofsson and Anders Bjork blew the game wide open by scoring 2:01 apart in the second period.
“The work we put in in camp is what carried over to this game. That’s our identity and we got to work hard,” said Girgensons, who missed all of last season with a hamstring injury. “I don’t think it would’ve mattered who scored the first two goals.”
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The Sabres converted three of six power-play opportunities, with Tage Thompson pushing Buffalo’s lead to 5-1 early in the third period.
While Buffalo looked nothing like the team that finished last in the NHL standings for the fourth time in eight seasons last year, the Canadiens didn’t come close to resembling the team that reached the Stanley Cup Final, before losing in five games to Tampa Bay in July.
Montreal was coming off a 2-1 season-opening loss at Toronto on Wednesday, and opened a season 0-2 for the first time since 2000.
Chris Wideman scored and Sam Montembeault stopped 31 shots in his Canadiens’ debut after being acquired off waivers from Florida two weeks ago.
“We understand the reason we have success and what we have to put in to get the results. We didn’t do that tonight. They deserved to win, they got the result that they deserved,” Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. “You don’t want to put yourself in a hole. So obviously to start 0-and-2, there’s a lot of urgency on the next one.”
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The Canadiens have eight players on IR, including captain Shea Weber and goalie Carey Price, who last week entered the NHL/NHL Players’ Association joint player assistance program.
The fallout from the Sabres’ off-season player purge, Eichel’s dispute and 10-season playoff drought was evident with the NHL announcing — not the Sabres —- a crowd of 8,467 scattered around an arena with a 19,200 capacity. One fan showed up early wearing a paper bag over his head and an Eichel jersey.
Olofsson scored shortly after a two-man advantage ended by snapping a shot from the right circle with 2:55 remaining in the second period.
Girgensons then played a key role on Bjork’s goal. After blocking a shot in Buffalo’s end, Girgensons led a three-on-two break before having his initial shot stopped, with Bjork converting the rebound to the right of the net.
Whatever the attendance, Okposo welcomed the fans who showed up after the Sabres spent all but a few home games last season playing in an empty arena due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Obviously not to full capacity, but the energy in there, like the chants in the third and the wave, they had the wave going,” Okposo said. “It meant a lot. I was fired up when I scored.”
Sabres coach Don Granato had no update on centre Casey Mittelstadt, who did not return after sustaining an upper body injury midway through the second period.