BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — As Floyd Smith, the first captain in franchise history, dropped the ceremonial face-off ahead of Saturday night’s home opener against the New Jersey Devils, the buzz inside of KeyBank Center quickly grew into a roar, energizing the Sabres every step of the way as they skated to a 7-2 win.
“Everybody will remember the goals, but the physicality, the way we stood up for each other in that respect, was really team, sacrificial like,” head coach Ralph Krueger said. “The noise was loud and the building had a lot of fun and we’re going to work hard to get this in here very often this year.”
Victor Olofsson opened the scoring, burying a beautiful feed from Jack Eichel on the power play to give the Blue & Gold a 1-0 lead.
Eichel added his first goal of the season, also on the man-advantage, pounding home a loose front in the front of the net later in the period to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead.
The scoring and the success on the power play would continue as Buffalo built a 4-1 lead on goals from Kyle Okposo and Jeff Skinner.
“Three, four, we want five!” fans shouted from the 300 levels.
Eichel and Olofsson followed through, teaming up to give Buffalo a 5-1 advantage.
“We were lucky enough to hear (those cheers) last year with a couple of our wins and hopefully we hear them a few more times this year,” Eichel said.
The roars reached fever pitch late in the second period as the the intensity on the ice increased.
After Kyle Palmeiri backed into netminder Carter Hutton, Rasmus Ristolainen followed up with a crushing hit to Miles Woods, who’s helmet was sent flying across the ice — drawing cheers from the capacity crowd inside KBC.
New Jersey’s Taylor Hall then took a run at fellow blueliner Jake McCabe, who lowered his shoulder and leveled hall. Wayne Simmonds took exception and tussled with McCabe — capping off a sequence that drew the loudest cheers in recent memory.
“I think whenever you get up a couple of goals, they’re trying to get themselves back in the game and regain momentum whether it’s through physical play or fighting, it’s important for our group to stick together, manage it and keep trying to play our game,” Eichel said.
After a strong performance in the season opener against Pittsburgh Thursday night, Saturday featured another 60-minute effort from the Sabres. And, while it is only two games into the regular season, it’s clear Krueger has already helped change the culture in the locker room and on the ice.
There were moments where the Devils looked to seize momentum, scoring within the first minute of the second and third periods. In year’s past, the Sabres would have played on their heels and would have struggled the rest of the way. But, the Blue & Gold answered back, scoring shortly after New Jersey to regain their edge and the momentum.
“Mistakes are going to happen but we’re learning to cover for one another and be on the right side of it,” said Sam Reinhart, who also scored twice in the win. “It’s kind of the way we’re looking to play no matter what and it’s always sweeter when you can get the crowd going like that.”