The Buffalo Sabres were expected to wallow at the bottom of the NHL standings after stripping their best player of the team captaincy, trading their leading scorer and most experienced defenseman and losing their starting goaltender in free agency, but through two games of the 2021-22 season, a collection of youngsters, journeymen and hole-pluggers are a perfect 2-0 and lead the Atlantic Division.
The Sabres opened the year with a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday and won 2-1 in a Saturday matinee shootout at Key Bank Center against the Arizona Coyotes.
“It’s nice to start at home, it’s nice to have a crowd that was engaged the way it was and a lot of energy in the building. I said the other day I thought our players again fed off of the energy and excitement in the building.” Sabres head coach Don Granato said after the game.”If you can play hard, that’s a good characteristic to have and if the guys embrace that. I’m all for it.”
Buffalo got solid performances from veteran goalies Craig Anderson and Dustin Tokarski and has received balanced scoring, with six different goal scorers beating Montreal backup Samuel Montembeault and Arizona rookie Karel Vejmelka.
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Granato is approaching this season as an opportunity to develop young players like Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, and Rasmus Dahlin, but also to tinker and experiment with other players to gauge their capabilities.
“I’ve said it many times, we’re an evolving team, I cannot find it in my being right now to say this guy is better than that guy. The ceilings too high for too many guys, and I do not want to separate guys that ‘this guy can’t play this situation because you’re not good enough.’ I won’t believe that in our locker room.” Granato said. “They need to evolve through those situations, even if they make a mistake. We’re doing it because it’s valuable. It’s too valuable and an opportunity to develop more players right now, than less, and I thought they did great with it.”
Buffalo has benefited from an easy start, playing Montreal in the second of back-to-back games and a Coyotes club that is likely going to be their competition for the Shane Wright sweepstakes, but for a few days, all is right in Sabreland.