The season opener for the Sabres under new head coach Phil Housley was an encouraging first impression. There certainly were mistakes that need fixing as the team adapts to new players, a new coach, and a new system, but the overall look and feel of the team on the ice seemed like a nice preview of things to come. The defense was free to activate in the offensive zone and join the rush, the forwards were in constant motion which made things difficult on the Montreal defenders, and there were shots on shots on shots [insert Lil' Jon joke here].
Not only that, but they actually played with speed. They didn't just talk about wanting to play with speed, but they actual did it, as explained by Canadians Captain, Max Pacioretty, to Joe Yerdon of NHL.com.
Throughout the season I intend to make a short Game Tape video attempting to explain why & how each goal was scored in a game.
Here is the first Game Tape video for the 17/18 season:
I'm really interested in Scandella's impact on this team. My read of him is that he isn't a #1 Defenseman, and may not even be a true top pairing guy, but he seems to be a solid NHL defenseman, which the Sabres have been in desperate need of. He skates well enough, does a good job of preventing shot attempts against, and seems to move the puck well as demonstrated by the GIF below.
The standard move is to pass it up the boards to the winger and hope the winger can direct the puck to the center. Instead, Scandella reads the play and see's that Kane has a defender on top of him, so he makes a quick adjustment and hits Eichel with a slick pass for a smooth breakout that leads to a shot attempt.
Another consistent occurrence that I hope continues was the defense pinching below the dots to particiapte in the offense. This GIF below shows Scandella pinching deep and then staying by the net which leads to a few shot attempts.
In a post this summer I discussed the Sabres issue with giving up the defensive blue line for free to opposing teams. Well sure enough right off the opening draw the Canadians make an attempt to enter the zone and Nathan Beaulieu attacks at the blue line forcing Montreal to deflect the puck in rather than carrying it in.
It doesn't look like much but in the GIF below Tennyson (No. 5) gaps up at the blue line and keeps his stick active, forcing Montreal to dump the puck in. These simple plays were not being made by the Sabres defense last season.
Obviously the Ristolainen hit here is huge (I hope he didn't make head contact, it's hard to tell), but the reason he can even make the hit is because Beaulieu pressures at the blue line leaving Drouin with few options with the puck before Ristolainen comes in with the hit.
Here is one last example of attacking the blue line. Scandella steers the forward toward the boards and finally attacks at the blue line forcing a dump in.
Despite the shootout loss, Sabres fans should be encouraged by their performance Thursday night. The speed and active defensemen are already a giant improvement over last season. Give the team a couple of weeks to really nail down the new system and we could be in for a fun year.