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Mike Harrington: It's only 10 games but this is a very different version of the Sabres

It took them about 10 minutes into the first period but the Buffalo Sabres really got things revved up Thursday night in KeyBank Center.

It was as if we were back in California again, still among the sun and palm trees and all the LeBron gazing. The Sabres were really good in Los Angeles and Anaheim but skeptics could rightfully sneer those two teams were just brutal.

Optimists could counter the Sabres made them look that way. But it was important to see them against a good team, or at least one that has started the season that way.

No one pegged the Montreal Canadiens anywhere close to elite this season but they hit town with a 5-1-2 record that made them one of the major surprises in the league.

The Sabres just about ran them out of the building the final 40 minutes.

If not for Antti Niemi doing his best Carey Price impression, Buffalo would have had this one wrapped up long before it finally grabbed its gutsy 4-3 win on Kyle Okposo's power-play goal with 1:01 left.

Ten games into the season is the first real milepost. The Sabres are 6-4, their best record at this point since 2011. When the final buzzer sounded, they were ninth in the NHL's overall standing just six months after becoming the first team in history to finish 31st.

Later results out West dropped them down a few pegs, but 10 games is no small sample size to gauge the progress being made.

The Sabres came back to win by erasing three deficits, something they had not done since an overtime win at Nashville in January, 2017. Zero chance they pull this kind of win off last season.

Phil Housley's messages are clearly getting through. This team has had back-to-back games over 40 shots on goal. Its passing is crisp. There's traffic in front of the goal. The defense is scoring. Zach Bogosian's skating and physical game have never been better.

Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe make a great top defense pair. And Housley seems to have found a top line to compete with the NHL's elite in Jack Eichel between Jeff Skinner and Jason Pominville.

"You're seeing a brand of hockey that we're playing that we're sticking to our game plan even if we fall down in a game," said McCabe, who had two assists and was a blueline beast. "You don't see a change in us and that's something that's been a big difference.

"In past years, we might stray away from our game plan and try to go off individually and not do our brand of hockey. Our brand of hockey prevailed tonight."

Sure did. The shots on goal were 42-22 for the game and 15-4 in the third period. The shot attempts were 66-45. The better team won.

Ten games into the season -- and especially the last three -- the Sabres look fast and they're driving opposing defenses crazy in the offensive zone. That's how good teams look. It's been years since they've looked that way.

"I really like the way our guys are hanging on pucks down low, being tough to play against and wearing the opponent down," Housley said.

And he's not just talking about the top line. The Canadiens spent several shifts trying to get the puck away from the likes of Patrik Berglund and Johan Larsson as well. The Sabres actually look somewhat deep at forward.

The defense is attacking. Pominville said the "Dahlin effect" is spreading through the team. Rasmus Dahlin has had his moments as an 18-year-old and his moments where you can tell he might look an awful lot like idol Erik Karlsson by the time he's 23.

Housley and defensive coach Steve Smith have Dahlin now couched on the third pair. Some easier minutes. He played 17:41 Thursday. Got another assist. Made several more crisp passes, both at 5 on 5 and the power play.

Goaltending has been good by the numbers although Carter Hutton has been somewhat pedestrian of late. There was a terrible goal allowed in Anaheim and two iffy ones Thursday. It might be time for Housley to go more of a 50-50 split between Hutton and Linus Ullmark.

That said, Hutton has been good late in games. He butchered a goal Sunday in Anaheim but was stiff in the last minute before Larsson swept a puck off the goal line and Berglund hit the empty net. He was equally stiff in the last minute Thursday.

And now the power play is going again. When Dahlin, Okposo, Eichel, Pominville and Skinner took the faceoff in the Montreal end with 1:19 to go, everyone in the building could feel it. A winning goal was in the offing.

How long has it been with the Sabres where you felt like that?

"Everyone in the building kind of sensed it," agreed McCabe. "That whole period we were taking over and really driving the play. ... We have all the confidence in the world. A couple years ago, this power play was tops in the league and we still have the players in here."

"It felt like we were in control the whole game," Okposo said. "We never broke."

It's only 10 games. There's months of hockey left. But this feels different. You can see it. Fascinating to watch where it goes.

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