Connor McDavid wins round one in dramatic fashion.
McDavid scored both goals for Edmonton on Tuesday night, including the winner with 1:12 left in overtime, to send the Sabres to a 2-1 loss. The No. 1 overall pick burst down the right side and slipped a shot past goaltender Robin Lehner mere seconds after No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel couldn’t finish a scintillating rush.
McDavid also scored just 22 seconds into the game, announcing his return to First Niagara Center with authority. Buffalo hosted his junior team at the height of McEichel mania last year.
The Sabres’ penalty killers went 3 for 3, including a crucial stop during overtime. The trio of David Legwand, Josh Gorges and Rasmus Ristolainen did most of the work.
Connor the crusher: Buffalo fans spent more than a year hoping McDavid would play for the Sabres. He needed only 22 seconds to remind them why. McDavid forced a turnover by Zach Bogosian, slipped behind the defenseman to take a pass from Jordan Eberle and easily deked Lehner to the ice. McDavid excitedly pounded the glass to celebrate the early 1-0 lead.
The “other” rookie shines: Sam Reinhart prevented the Sabres from being shut out for the third time in four games with 10:54 remaining. Reinhart spun with the puck in the left circle, then slid a no-look pass to Cal O’Reilly on the right side of the net to make it 1-1. The goal was O’Reilly’s first in the NHL since Dec. 21, 2011.
No goal: The refs were busy twice at the end of the second period. Lehner kicked a last-second rebound to the front of the net, and former Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera buried it just as the buzzer sounded. The refs went to the replay and determined the puck crossed the line with 0.3 seconds left, making it 2-0 Edmonton.
The officials went back to the replay board after the Sabres’ Dan Bylsma issued a coach’s challenge. Edmonton was clearly offside, negating the goal and sending the teams to the dressing room with a 1-0 lead for the Oilers.
Save-filled second: With the goal wiped off the scoreboard, Lehner stopped all 14 shots he faced during the second period. Cam Talbot stopped 12 as Edmonton held a 27-24 shot edge after 40 minutes. Lehner made two point-blank stops during the second after McDavid set up Leon Draisaitl in the slot and Niagara Falls’ Adam Clendening gave Eberle a great chance in front.
Edmonton finished regulation with a 35-32 shot advantage. Lehner made a fantastic save 1:20 into overtime, stoning Eberle on a two-on-one.
Drawing the crowd in: The fans got amped up when Eichel and McDavid lined up for a faceoff together. A large cheer would ring out for Eichel’s wins. McDavid took the opening draw, but Bylsma elected to use Johan Larsson as the starting center.
Rough finish: The fans booed the Sabres into the dressing room following the first period after watching the McDavid and the Oilers play keep-away in the Buffalo zone for the final 80 seconds. O’Reilly skated 7:44 during the first period, and 2:22 of it was when he got caught in the mismatch against McDavid on the final shift and couldn’t get off the ice.
Back in Buffalo: The Sabres recalled O’Reilly and Dan Catenacci from Rochester and used both on the same line. O’Reilly centered for Catenacci and right wing Zemgus Girgensons. Buffalo sent O’Reilly and Justin Bailey to the Amerks on Monday to make them eligible for the American Hockey League playoffs, then elected to summon Catenacci rather than Bailey.
Power play changes: The trade of Jamie McGinn forced Bylsma to shuffle his power-play units The first group featured Evander Kane, Zegmus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart up front, with Eichel and Bogosian on the point. The second unit had O’Reilly, Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson with Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk.
McCabe banged up: Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe riled up the crowd with a big hit on Nail Yakupov with 3:05 remaining, but McCabe took the worst of it and was helped off the ice to the trainers’ room.
Familiar face: Longtime Sabres forward Miroslav Satan, who led the team in scoring six times, watched the game from the press box. Satan is the general manager for Team Europe in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and he is announcing the first 16 players Wednesday in Toronto.
Familiar voice: Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret returned to the broadcast booth following a monthlong vacation.
Planted to the bench: The least ice time for either team through 40 minutes belonged to the Sabres’ Matt Moulson, who skated just 5:12. He has three years left on his $25 million contract.
Slick announcement: Weather forced the closure of the Skyway, and the Sabres made an advisory announcement to the sellout crowd of 19,070. The song “Ice Ice Baby” promptly followed through the speakers.
“Tribute” to Eichel: The Sabres hand the microphone to fans before the start of the period in an attempt to pump up the crowd. Prior to the third, a fan shouted into the mic, “I’m coming for you, Jack!” and pounded his beer. It was a play on Eichel’s Snapchat during college in which he said, “Buffalo, I’m coming for ya!” and chugged a beer.
Next: The Sabres will play their second of three straight home games Thursday when they welcome another team from western Canada, the Calgary Flames. Buffalo hosts Minnesota on Saturday.