STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The Sabres’ first preseason game doubled as a chance for Penn State to thank Terry and Kim Pegula for bringing hockey to the campus. Buffalo failed to join in the tribute.
Minnesota scored with 4.6 seconds left Monday night to pick up a 2-1 victory. With Evander Kane in the box for high-sticking, Jason Zucker buried a one-timer to drop the Sabres to 0-1.
The fans in Pegula Ice Arena expressed their appreciation immediately. The student section taped a 40-foot sign reading, “Thank you Terry & Kim Pegula” on the glass behind one net, and they loudly chanted, “Thank you, Terry!” as soon as the puck dropped for the opening faceoff.
The Pegulas, who were among the 4,000 in attendance, received a partial standing ovation late in the first period after a tribute video featuring Penn State administrators, coaches, players and employees appeared on the scoreboard.
First of the year: Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons, looking to rebound from a subpar year, used a rebound to get 2016-17 started right. A save by Minnesota goaltender Alex Stalock caromed to the slot, and a wide-open Girgensons unleashed a high rocket to open the scoring. It was the only goal of the first period. Buffalo had a 17-11 shot advantage.
Busy debut: While the Sabres finished the first with a hefty lead in shots, the game certainly didn’t start that way. Minnesota took the opening eight shots in just 4:12, but Sabres newcomer Anders Nilsson stopped them all to allow his teammates to gain their footing.
Nilsson played two periods and stopped 26 of 27 shots. Minnesota’s Kurtis Gabriel beat him after collecting a loose puck in the slot late in the second period. Linus Ullmark played the third period and faced just four shots during the 20 minutes.
Opening lineup: While the Wild used a lineup filled with prospects, the Sabres treated the Penn State crowd to an NHL-heavy roster. The lines were center Johan Larsson with left wing Evander Kane and right wing Sam Reinhart, Girgensons between Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta, Cal O’Reilly centering for Cole Schneider and Alexander Nylander, and Giorgio Estephan in the middle of Justin Bailey and William Carrier.
The defense pairs were Josh Gorges and Casey Nelson, Brendan Guhler and Justin Falk, and Brady Austin with Erik Burgdoerfer.
TV time: The Sabres’ next four preseason games will be on television. Tuesday’s visit to KeyBank Center by Ottawa, Thursday’s meeting with Toronto in St. Catharines, Ont., and Friday’s game against the Maple Leafs in Buffalo will be on MSG. The Sabres and Carolina meet next Tuesday for the “Kraft Hockeyville USA” game in Marquette, Mich., and the game will be broadcast by NBCSN.
Brian Duff and Rob Ray will be the announcers Tuesday and Thursday. Rick Jeanneret will join Ray on Friday. Dan Dunleavy and Ray will call the Carolina game and team up for radio-only broadcasts Oct. 5 against the Hurricanes and Oct. 7 against Ottawa.
Point man: Just like during last week’s prospect tournament, the Sabres used Nylander at the point on the power play. He was on a unit with Larsson, Kane, Reinhart and Nelson. The other group featured Girgensons, Foligno, Gionta, O’Reilly and Burgdoerfer.
Eichel almost ready: Jack Eichel, who has yet to skate with the Sabres after representing Team North America at the World Cup, is scheduled to have his first practice Wednesday.
First cuts: As expected, the Sabres began trimming their roster by sending players back to their junior teams. The initial cuts were East Aurora’s Austin Osmanski and fellow defensemen Vojtech Budik and Devante Stephens, plus forwards Cliff Pu, Vasily Glotov and Brandon Hagel. The cuts left the Sabres with 50 players – 29 forwards, 16 defensemen and five goaltenders.
Next: The Sabres will play their second of seven exhibitions at 7 p.m. Tuesday when Ottawa visits KeyBank Center. Defenseman Dion Phaneuf and forwards Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Chris Kelly and Chris Neil are among the Senators scheduled to play. Eichel’s teammate at Boston University, Matt O’Connor, will start in goal for the Senators.