Written by Colleen Meosky
On January 14, the Sabres played their opening game to the 2020-21 season against the Washington Capitals. Buffalo lost 4-2 after a long, slow-paced game. The following night the Sabres improved their defensive game but couldn’t create enough offensive momentum in a much closer 2-1 defeat. (It’s important to note that while both Linus Ullmark and Jack Eichel played in the games, neither of them were prepared enough due to Ullmark’s immigration issues and Eichel’s upper-body injury acquired in off-ice training.) This is clearly not what the team or fans wanted for the first double header. The Sabres have the longest active playoff drought in the NHL, so why should fans believe that watching and caring about this season is even worth their time and effort? I’m a fifteen year old hockey fanatic, and I don’t recall a single memory of mine with a Buffalo Sabres playoff team. It’s been frustrating to gain hope through exciting draft picks and a ten game winning streak only to watch their progress fall apart. That being said, I am still hopeful for this new season because the Sabres have not had this much talent on their roster in the past nine years.
Anyone who watched the Sabres’ first game could see that the team lacked intensity and connectivity. From weak defensive coverage to sloppy passes, the Sabres simply did not show up to opening night. While this was not an encouraging performance, there were plenty of factors that likely contributed to it that can be fixed. For one, this was definitely not a typical offseason. Players were able to train and find ice time at home for the most part, but routines had to be altered with COVID-19 safety guidelines. When the players finally arrived in Buffalo for training camp, they only had two weeks to prepare to compete with Washington. Newly appointed GM Kevyn Adams made several acquisitions in the past few months. The new faces in the locker room have needed to meet their teammates with masks on, and COVID-19 has certainly made safe social gatherings difficult. It will take more time for them to get to know their teammates this year. The connections built, or rather lack thereof, in the locker room are evident on the ice.
Figuring out the forward lines and their chemistry is a work in progress. The good news is that the team has enough skilled players to work with. Dylan Cozens appeared in his first NHL game on opening night, shortly after setting records at the IIHF World Juniors. Taylor Hall’s first goal in the organization was also the first goal for the Sabres this season. Jack Eichel is still recovering from the minor injury, but all hockey fans know that he is a major threat when he’s playing his game. Hall and Eichel are expected to be one of the most elite duos in the league this year. Jeff Skinner has been creating numerous scoring opportunities already and has played the best out of the team’s forwards, especially considering he’s played mostly on the fourth line.
Photo credit: Buffalo Sabres Official Website https://www.nhl.com/sabres/news/buffalo-sabres-washington-capitals-recap-highlights/c-320305798
The first two games weren’t fun to watch, but it’s also important to keep in mind that the Washington Capitals are one of the best teams in our division. The team needs to let this be in the past and work towards building a strong foundation for this shortened season.