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Mike Harrington: Plenty to see, even if it was another October loss

You can't ensure yourself a playoff berth in October but you can definitely put yourself in uphill-climb mode if you hit Halloween in the wake of a sluggish month.

The Buffalo Sabres know that lesson far too well in recent years. They opened another season Thursday night in KeyBank Center hoping to avoid the pitfalls of recent years.

The 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal was disappointing for the way it ended. But taken in the prism of a long-term view, there was a lot to like too. Coach Phil Housley said there were a lot of positive things to look at and he's right.

The Sabres had 69 shot attempts in the game and had 45 on goal. Their defense was fully engaged in the attack,  just as he wanted to see. Victor Antipin, Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu are a huge upgrade over Cody Franson and good soldier Josh Gorges, who may not see the ice for a good long while. Especially when Zach Bogosian returns. Rasmus Ristolainen played 26:58 and was a horse.

Up front, Jason Pominville was the people's choice and the entire world agrees with Pominville's easily seen shout-out that Jack Eichel gave him a bleeping great pass for his second goal. Evander Kane had 11 shots on goal. Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart and Seth Griffith were dangerous.

There have been good moments in other Octobers too. But you throw in Thursday's loss and the Sabres are 11-30-5 in October since 2013. Since 2010, they're 20-41-7. And none of that includes the 3-6-1 start to the 2013 lockout season, which opened on Jan. 20.

The Sabres haven't been over .500 in October since going 6-4 in 2011.

"You can't try to do much right away," noted Scandella, whose Minnesota teams were 25-11-6 the last four Octobers. "Trust your system. That's how you build something early and how we had success in Minnnesota. But we have a great group here. Guys willing to put the work in and we did that in training camp."

The players enjoy Housley's up-tempo pace in practice and it translated mightily to the game after not taking hold much in preseason without a full lineup in place.

"We've taken strides every day in practice. He's high pace, high tempo," Pominville said of Housley. "He wants us skating, wants us moving, wants the 'D' active. It's a fun style to play for the players. It's going to be a fun style for the fans to watch."

Now for some issues. Robin Lehner simply can't let Philip Danault's wraparound goal beat him with the Sabres nursing a one-goal lead on a power play with 12 minutes left. Just can't happen ever. Hard to fault Lehner for his continued shootout struggles, given how sick a move Jonathan Drouin put on him for the game-winning goal.

Still, fans are going to crab about Lehner and shootouts. The focus this time should go more to Housley.

No problem starting with ex-New Jersey center Jacob Josefson, who was 11 for 21 in his career. That's what the Sabres signed him for. Or going with Pominville, fresh off a two-goal night and holder of 28 shootout goals in his career.

But not going with Eichel in the shootout was plain goofy. If I give a guy $80 million on Wednesday, he's taking the shootout on Thursday.

Housley, in his defense, was playing percentages. Eichel is just 1 for 9 in his career and Housley went with Sam Reinhart, who was 3 for 8. No feel for the theater of the moment there.

"Certainly there was consideration but I went with the percentages tonight," Housley said. "Those guys were pretty fresh. It was unfortunate we didn't get one by Carey Price. You've got to remember he's a pretty good goalie too."

Full credit to Eichel for smiling and being diplomatic when the subject was brought up to him about potentially being No. 4 in the shootout if it stretched that long.

"I'm not sure," said a smiling Eichel. ".... Carey Price is a good goalie. You've got to give him lot of credit and we've got a lot of guys who can take shootouts in here."

The Sabres will have to survive to collect points in this season's first month. They play Saturday in Brooklyn and host New Jersey here Monday before heading on a four-game West Coast trip. San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and the first trip to Vegas will be quite the challenge but also an opportunity for bonding too.

"We can't look at it as October as a whole," said Kane. "We've got to take it one game at a time, as much of a cliche as that is and I hate using them. It's true. One game at a time. We get out on the road early here and maybe that will be good for us to bond and get close as a group, have some fun out there. We'll be playing good hockey teams and we'll have to be ready."


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