The Sabres opened their season in Buffalo with a packed house that cheered record-setting saves, gasped at great scoring chances and moaned when the home team lost with 95 seconds left. Despite the 1-0 setback to Ottawa, the fans seemed to like what they saw.
Ron Rolston admired almost none of it.
“We didn’t play a very good hockey game at the end of the day,” the Sabres’ coach said in First Niagara Center. “The compete’s got to be way, way, way, way higher at this level. … We’re in trouble in terms of elite in this league, so we’ve got to fix some things.”
Rolston bemoaned the lack of intensity shown by his top two lines. The team’s puck movement peeved him. What else didn’t he like?
“Pretty much everything,” he said.
So far, the Sabres have shown they are just good enough to lose by one goal. Their coach wants more. He concedes it’ll be a learning process that won’t be complete by the time Buffalo (0-2) plays its third game of the season tonight in Pittsburgh.
“We’ve got to take baby steps at this point,” Rolston said.
They certainly took steps from Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in Detroit. The biggest one was increasing their shot total from 20 to 35, but Senators goaltender Craig Anderson outdueled Ryan Miller by stopping them all.
“It’s not a fun way to lose, especially in our opener,” said Miller, who was fantastic with 45 saves. “I just needed to make one more save there. It’s disappointing.”
The goaltenders dominated the shooters right from the start, which was especially impressive considering all the opportunities generated.
Miller made 23 saves in the opening 20 minutes, including 10 during the Senators’ three power-play chances. Anderson answered with 16 stops, all but three coming at even strength.
It was a historic performance. The 39 combined shots were the most in a scoreless period in the NHL’s expansion era (1967-present).
“We gave them too many shots, and Millsie stood on his head,” alternate captain Christian Ehrhoff said. “We didn’t reward him for his good efforts.”
Erik Karlsson ruined the night for the 19,070 fans when he scored on Ottawa’s 45th shot.
The defenseman slipped behind the defense and put a cross-ice pass from Clarke MacArthur between Miller’s pads.
“I thought we had coverage,” Miller said. “I thought it was going to be junk thrown to the net, so I kind of searched for it with one knee down. When he held it a little longer, I caught a glimpse of him passing it.”
It was a testament to the goalies’ talent that Karlsson’s shot was the only one that found the net.
The Sabres took their 30th shot of the game with 12:25 left. The Senators passed the 40 mark with more than eight minutes to play.
Buffalo helped Anderson by missing the net or shooting into him on numerous open-net chances.
“I’m not trying to hit him, but you’ve got to give him credit,” said Sabres co-captain Thomas Vanek, who led all players with nine shots.
“Both teams deserved a point. We were the first team to break at the end, which is disappointing.”
Buffalo lost defenseman Henrik Tallinder to an upper-body injury, and blue-liner Alexander Sulzer was summoned from the Amerks, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Miller is expected to get tonight off in favor of backup Jhonas Enroth, and the starting goalie hopes the team can stay upbeat despite the setbacks.
“There’s room to improve in a lot of areas, and we just have to come together as a group,” Miller said. “It’s part of the process here in a young season, and we have to stay positive. We have to stay true to the plan here.”