PHILADELPHIA – Brandon Montour did not always know where he needed to be on the Wells Fargo Center ice Tuesday night. The 24-year-old defenseman had not even practiced with his new Buffalo Sabres teammates when he made his debut against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Sabres' pre-trade deadline acquisition did not join the team until a few hours before puck drop Monday in Toronto, giving him a little over 24 hours to meet everyone and try to learn a system that coach Phil Housley had been drilling since the onset of training camp nearly six months earlier.
Montour offered a critical self-evaluation in the aftermath of a 5-2 loss to the Flyers, yet he showed why General Manager Jason Botterill chose to part with Brendan Guhle and a first-round draft pick Sunday night.
"I really liked his game," coach Phil Housley said of Montour. "He attacked the game and tried to make a difference out there. I loved the speed he brought, his tenacity. It’s just a work in progress. He’s getting accustomed to his teammates, but I really liked his game."
Montour was paired with Marco Scandella to start the game and ranked fourth among Sabres defensemen in total ice time with 18 minutes, 11 seconds, trailing Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian. The Sabres did not hold a morning skate prior to the game, but that did not prevent Montour from playing more than two minutes on the power play.
He used his right-handed shot to lead all Sabres defensemen with seven shot attempts and three were stopped by goalie Brian Elliott. Montour, a second-round draft pick of Anaheim in 2014, used his speed to create on the rush and quickly break the puck out of the Sabres' zone.
His potential impact was powerfully illustrated on Casey Mittelstadt's second-period goal.
Montour quickly gained possession of the puck after it rolled off Michael Laughton's stick and used his speed to skate around the Flyers' forward before making a breakout pass to Conor Sheary, who moved the puck up to Evan Rodrigues.
Rodrigues skated down the right-wing boards and made a centering pass to set up Mittelstadt at 17:53 into the second period, cutting the Sabres' deficit to one goal.
"He's good. He can fly," Mittelstadt said when asked about Montour. "Anytime you can get a guy who is flying up the ice like that and getting open and making plays is always a fun guy to have out there. I thought he did well. … He should fit right in."
Montour led all Sabres with a 57.9 percent Corsi – which measures shot differential during 5-on-5 play – and even played 1:11 on the penalty kill because Sabres defensemen accounted for four of the team's five penalties.
Still, Montour wasn't pleased with his play in the defensive zone. During the second period, James van Riemsdyk gained leverage on Montour in front of the Sabres net and deflected Robert Hagg's shot past Carter Hutton for the Flyers' third goal.
There were a few other breakdowns around Buffalo's net when Montour was on the ice, though they did not always translate into shots. He used his speed to close the gap and block Oskar Lindblom's shot after a coverage mishap in the first period. During a second-period power play, Montour tried to enter the offensive zone with the puck but his turnover nearly led to an odd-man rush and his whiff on a third-period one-timer led to the Flyers' fourth goal.
"I think just being familiar with one another," Montour said of his challenging debut. "I’ve had a couple long days here. Yesterday got in right before the game and got into Philadelphia around 2. Tough to get some sleep but these are one of the games where I think that doesn’t matter. I felt fine. I felt a couple boneheaded plays on my end in the game there, but all in all it was OK."
The Sabres, now 29-26-8, fell further out of the playoff chase with the loss in Philadelphia and could be the Eastern Conference's 12th-place team when they host Pittsburgh in KeyBank Center Friday night. That puts pressure on Montour to acclimate quickly, but Botterill did not make the trade with only this season in mind.
Montour is not a restricted free agent until next summer, making him part of a young core that includes Dahlin, Mittelstadt, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. His ability to carry the puck and execute passes makes him a nice fit for the style Botterill wants from the roster. Montour is not as raw as some of his teammates, yet Botterill is hopeful there is more potential to be tapped.
Montour had five goals among 25 points while averaging 22 minutes, 40 seconds in 62 games with the Ducks at the time of the trade. He has already played in 21 playoff games over just two-plus NHL seasons, helping the Ducks reach the Western Conference finals in 2017.
The Sabres will practice Thursday in Harborcenter, giving Montour one more opportunity to work with his teammates before back-to-back games against the Penguins and Maple Leafs.
"It’s obviously different," he said. "This is my first time involved with one of these situations. It’s one of those situations where you come to a new organization, new teammates. Different types of plays out there. It’s one of those things where communication is huge between myself and the coaching staff and myself and teammates. It’s one of those things where this is day one and unfortunately we didn’t get it tonight. Back at it Friday."
O'Regan sent down
The Sabres assigned winger Danny O'Regan to Rochester for the second time in three days Wednesday. O'Regan, 25, played one game with Buffalo after being recalled last Friday and was officially assigned to Rochester Monday, only to be added to the Sabres' roster again Tuesday.
O'Regan, a pending unrestricted free agent, has 18 goals among 34 points in 53 games for the Amerks this season.
The Sabres Green Team announced Wednesday it will hold a hockey equipment drive benefiting Hasek's Heroes, beginning Friday with the team's game against the Penguins.
The Sabres will collect used equipment in conjunction with the NHL's Green Month, an initiative designed to help reduce the league's environmental impact. A collection net will be located outside the KeyBank Center account services office March 1-15.