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Okposo's debut is a key to solid Sabres win

EDMONTON, Alberta -- What can $42 million buy you? As Kyle Okposo proved in his debut with the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night, far more than just points on the stat sheet.

Okposo scored his first goal on just his second shift with the club and added a snazzy assist on a power play as the Sabres pulled away to drub the Edmonton Oilers, 6-2 in Rogers Place. But more than that, the view was unanimous around the locker room about the influence of the 28-year-old, who signed as a big-money free agent on July 1 but missed Thursday's opener against Montreal with a bruised knee.

"Seeing him in practice ever since he got here, that's a great pickup for our team," said goalie Robin Lehner, who made 31 saves in a mostly solid effort. "He gives us offense for sure but you just see how he makes the right play. When he's out there, he brings a certain calm to me as a goalie because you know he's going to do things right all over the ice."

Okposo opened the scoring at 2:37 of the first period, streaking down the middle and tapping home a Sam Reinhart pass past Oilers goalie Cam Talbot after Ryan O'Reilly created a turnover inside the Edmonton zone

"Obviously it's nice to get one early like that," Okposo said. "It was a great play all around by my two linemates and all I had to do was put it in the empty cage. It's good for the confidence. It's different to come to a new team so I'm happy to get that off my back."

Okposo fed O'Reilly for his first goal of the season at 7:14 of the first on a power play, freezing an Edmonton defender and sending a perfect diagonal pass through the slot for O'Reilly to drive home.

"He gets the puck and slows up, not taking the pace away, but allows you to almost take a breath," defenseman Josh Gorges said of Okposo. "You can say, 'Look at this guy. He's under control, knows where he's going and makes the right play.' Such a solid, smart hockey player."

Okposo was one of 10 Sabres with points in the game and one of four with a multi-point night. O'Reilly led the way with a career-high two goals and two assists. O'Reilly's 110-footer, a bouncer from beyond center ice, snapped a 2-2 tie early in the second period.

"I was trying to throw a little garbage at the net and get a good bounce and lucky for me, I did," O'Reilly said. "Anytime you throw a little grenade at the net, you never know."

"I thought we were ready to play today," Okposo said. "I thought we played a really good all-around game, managed the puck well and executed. That was a key to our game, the execution."

That certainly applies to the defensive end. Gorges led the effort against Edmonton phenom Connor McDavid, who had six points in his team's first two games but did nothing Sunday, getting limited to just one shot on goal.

"It was a collective thing," Gorges said. "When you've got a guy as gifted and talented as he is, you can't stick one guy on him and say, 'Go shut him down.' You can't even say that with a D-pair. We did a great job of our forwards being over top of him early in the zone, making it tough for him to build his speed as much as he'd like to."

Gorges, a notoriously tough critic of himself and his team, was particularly impressed with this performance.

"Tonight was one of those games we should hold on to for the rest of the year," Gorges said. "Collectively, from our goaltender to six D to 12 forwards, we all did the little things we had to do. It was nice to see."

It was a far cry from the listless performance the Sabres issued in Thursday's 4-1 loss to Montreal, which came just 36 hours after the shock of losing Jack Eichel for several weeks to an ankle injury.

"Looking back at the Montreal game, no question we were out of sorts a bit right from the start," said coach Dan Bylsma. "I don't think we had it at any time in that game. Tonight was a completely different mentality, completely different focus from our team. I thought we played a smart game, a heads-up game, a dominating game. That's how the Buffalo Sabres need to play."


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