Buffalo Sabres right wing Tage Thompson (72) puts the puck past Detroit Red Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, left, during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
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HAVING FUN, SABRES FANS?

Homestand has KeyBank Center partying like it’s 1999

By Andrew Kulyk

The pavilion at the downtown arena serves as the main entrance and exit point for fans attending Buffalo Sabres games and events. And if this week has been a gauge as to the team’s performance, one needs only to watch the scene unfold as Buffalo fans have exited the building.

The massive arena lobby has been quaking. Noise and cheers from fans leaving the building totally entertained. Noise and cheers which surely have been emanating through the walls and into the dressing room and clubhouse of the team for the players to hear.

“The fans gave us that shot of adrenaline we needed,” said Coach Don Granato this past week, as the Sabres posted impressive wins. First in overtime and the Patrick Kane led Chicago Blackhawks. Then on Monday they piled on the goals in an impressive 8-3 drubbing of the Detroit Red Wings.

But Wednesday. Wednesday was the statement win. Coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins and scoring five third period goals to win that game 6-3.


“Lots of fun playing,” said defenseman Owen Power, who self evaluated that this was his best game of the season, Power has struggled some this past month, thrown into a bigger spotlight with the losses to injury of fellow defensemen Henri Jokiharju and Mattias Samuelsson. On Wednesday, Power was brilliant in feeding teammate Victor Oloffson with a pass from the defensive zone, which Olofsson then blasted all the way down the ice for the Sabres 6th goal and a second empty netter against Pittsburgh in the game’s dying seconds.

The play even earned plaudits from head coach Don Granato in his comments. “The timing and execution of that pass was perfect.” Teammate Alex Tuch added, “It was unbelievable, I would have whiffed at it.”

Don’t look now, but the Sabres are 7-3 as they finish the first month of the season. That is a  slight improvement from the 5-4-1 record they posted last year. They sit amidst the top eight teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.

Fans have seen this head fake before. In recent seasons the team has piled dizzying win streaks in November to place them in the residents Trophy neighborhood, only to find themselves as a lottery team come March. January has been an exceptionally punishing month for the Sabres.

But this time, it feels different.

Going into this weekend’s away games, the Sabres have three players who have tallied seven goals each. That is the most in the NHL. Rasmus Dahlin is having a career season on defense and is already being mentioned as a potential Norris Trophy candidate. Jack Quinn tallied his first goal of the season. Goaltender Erie Comrie, who had a dreadful debut during training camp and preseason, is developing into a stalwart netminder, with the veteran Craig Anderson at the ready to back him up. To put it bluntly, the Sabres have weapons.

Probably none more so than forward Tage Thompson, who has emerged as the big prize in the trade that sent Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis.

Thompson registered a hat trick against Detroit this past Monday, part of a six point night that had the team and its fans buzzing. Thompson demurred when asked if scoring a hat trick or tallying six points was a bigger accomplishment. “Just glad we got the win,” said Thompson. He added that the confidence within the dressing room has been there all season, and if things aren’t working at any given moment, timely line shuffling has often yielded results.

The long playoff drought, including the whacky pandemic year when 24 teams qualified yet the Sabres still didn’t make the cut, weighs heavily on this team. It’s still early, but does this team have it within them to make that run, to be relevant come the run at the end of the season, when every game and every point matters that much more?

This was a good homestand. But now the team travels down to Tampa Bay this weekend, then next week’s four game homestand includes games against the powerhouse Boston Bruins and the Vegas Golden Knights. Jack Eichel’s second return in a visiting uniform is certain to be a circus of emotions and playmaking and must see hockey. Plus after missing the playoffs last season the Golden Knights are off to a hot start and Eichel has five goals.

Sabres in the playoffs? Let’s have another discussion on this topic in about ten days.

TARO SEZ…

Much is being made of the Toronto Maple Leafs and their supposed sluggish start. Losing on opening night to their arch rival Montreal and then a lackluster west coast trip capped off with an overtime loss at Anaheim, the gnashing of teeth from the Center Of The Hockey Universe can be heard all the way down the QEW to the USA border.

Don’t buy into it. The Leafs are 5-4-2 and just two points behind the Sabres in the ultra competitive Atlantic Division, still considered amongst the elite in the uber stacked division for one of the three guaranteed playoff spots.

The Sabres first square off in Toronto on November 19. And of course, while Taro was saddened and disappointed in the Toronto Blue Jays’ quick exit in this year’s MLB playoffs, he drinks the tears of anguish from Leafs fans with great delight.