ST. PAUL, Minn. – After three straight days of grueling scrimmages and double sessions, Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma expected his team to not have a lot of legs when they started keeping score for real Monday.
He was pretty much on point in the first period. The Sabres gave up 11 of the game’s 13 shots and didn’t have much going against the Minnesota Wild.
As it turned out, the Sabres found a second gear to pull out a 3-2 victory in XCel Energy Center. And while the big story of the third period surrounded Jack Eichel’s short-handed goal and his feed to Matt Moulson, there were plenty of other talking points.
The biggest was Buffalo’s defensive work. The Sabres gave up just 20 shots in the game. Only three in the third period and just nine in the final 45 minutes.
Like he foreshadowed, Bylsma expcted to see some good things too.
“You’ll see snippets and pieces, very little that’s in its entirety,” Bylsma sad. “From the scrimmages, you see a nice play or some aspect of our game we’re trying to work on but it’s just a snapshot, just a piece of how we’re trying to play.”
On the scoresheet: Nicolas Deslauriers got Buffalo even at 1-1 at 18:32 of the first period, pounding home a Marcus Foligno rebound. The Wild tallied first on Jared Spurgeon’s slapper at 13:12, with former Buffalo captain Jason Pominville providing a screen. Mikael Granlund gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead at 11:04 of the second, sliding home a rebound after Zach Parise’s laser hit the post.
Buffalo lines: For the record, they went Matt Moulson-Jack Eichel-Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson-Marcus Foligno-Phil Varone, William Carrier-Phil Varone-Justin Bailey, Matt Ellis-Jean Dupuy-Vaclav Karabacek. The defense pairs were Mike Weber-Cody Franson, Brendan Guhle-Mark Pysyk and Jack McCabe-Brady Austin
Those who weren’t here (Sabres): Buffalo’s scratches included its presumed top line of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Ennis. Sam Reinhart also did not play. Same for captain Brian Gionta and other veterans such as Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian, Robin Lehner, David Legwand and Jamie McGinn.
Those who weren’t here (Wild): Former Sabres winger Thomas Vanek headed a list that also included Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Matt Dumba and Devin Dubynk. Pominville and big-ticket items like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were in the lineup.
Lab test: Despite the fact the final score went into the books as it did, the teams played a 3-on-3 overtime period as part of the NHL’s preseason testing that allows each team to play the new format three times. Parise scored the only goal with eight seconds left in overtime. Tied or not, the Sabres will do it again after Wednesday’s home exhibition opener against Ottawa.
Next up: The First Niagara Center opener Wednesday against the Senators is in the middle of a busy stretch for Buffalo that features four games in six days. The Sabres head to Toronto Friday night and Ottawa on Saturday.