The Sabres would have heard a lot of cheers if folks were there Wednesday night. They deserved some for once. When the fans finally come back, you have to hope they’ll see more of the hockey that’s been on display the last three games.
“I think tonight was the most consistent for sure,” said Sam Reinhart. “We were able to weather a storm early in the second (when Philadelphia got the first 11 shots on goal). The penalty kill did a good job. So it was a good process.”
“Guys have been positive,” added defenceman Brandon Montour. “The guys have tried to pick each other up after every game, and we’re doing a great job of that. Tonight just kind of was a full 60 minutes, where everybody was moving, everybody was feeling good.”
There were no panic attacks in this one for the Sabres. They were by far the better team for about 50 of the 60 minutes. And sometimes you need some luck, too. The Sabres got some right off the opening faceoff as just 11 seconds into the game, Sean Couturier burned Linus Ullmark with a backhand.
Flat off the goalpost and back out. Given the way Monday’s game ended, imagine the boomerang effect on both teams if the Flyers had taken a lead in that kind of short order. Instead, the first period proceeded much like the opening 40 minutes did Monday. The Sabres played with pace and purpose, the Flyers were dishevelled and disjointed.
Reinhart’s goal that opened the scoring came off great work by Okposo. Rochester Amerks captain Steven Fogarty chipped in his first NHL goal and had a sublime assist to Casey Mittelstadt. Jacob Bryson and Rasmus Ristolainen each rang up two assists and a plus-4 rating. Montour scored two short-handed goals in a 37-second span late in the third period.
Granato’s first win as an NHL head coach showcased the way he wants them to play with pace. They’re becoming a North-South team again. Reinhart made a point of noting the free-skating style the team has been given the keys to since Ralph Krueger left. It makes a difference.
“I think that right now, the way that he wants us to play is a lot of close support, a lot of easy passes to each other,” said Okposo. “And when you do that, you start to get a lot of good puck touches, and then you start to feel good.”
Just give the fans a good effort. Score some goals. Make some plays. It’s not too much to ask. And it was time to get rid of this streak, which was starting to become a huge story across North America and could have become a huge organisational albatross if it got into the 20s, something no NHL team had endured since 1993.
“There’s no question that it is important to put the streak behind so everybody can move on,” Granato admitted. “But we absolutely had to block it out. … We had to control what we can truly control and focus on making this group better and getting better as a team. And I feel we are. We’re in a much better place, getting better. And we have to keep that focus.”
Of course, this was only one win and just the seventh of the season. Here’s hoping the diehards who decide to come in April get a few rewards and are able to make some noise.