Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR) - The Buffalo Sabres found themselves playing on back-to-back nights on Tuesday, as they took on the Ottawa Senators.
It was the first time the two teams have played in Ottawa in nearly 24 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So far this season, the Senators have 24 points and a record of 11-18-2 in 31 games.
The Sabres started hot in the first period like their previous matchup with the Detroit Red Wings. Dylan Cozens scored halfway through the first on a fluke shot from the circle.
In the second, the Senators began to take back control and netted a goal themselves when Drake Batherson stuck with a rebound in front of the net. That would be the only goal for the Senators, even though they controlled the rest of the game in the shot category.
In the third, Mark Jankowski jumped on a loose puck to score on a breakaway while a scuffle took place in front of the Senators' bench. Then it was Alex Tuch who buried an empty-netter for his second point of the night.
The Sabres were able to hold in the third period this time, rather than collapsing. So what could’ve changed in one day?
Here are this game’s three observations:
1.) Speed and urgency
In their game against Detroit, the Sabres came out with speed and a want to win that dwindled off as the game went on. In Tuesday's game against Ottawa, Buffalo kept that pace up throughout the game and saw themselves pull away for the win.
This style of play shows leaders who emerge too, such as Tuch and Cozens. They were on a line with Jeff Skinner once again, and the trio seemed to be the large proponent of the “in-your-face” style of play, which helped score two of the three goals.
While the Senators outshot the Sabres, 44-31, the team still stayed in the game throughout and didn’t look like they gave up or lost momentum part way through, even after conceding a goal. They kept up the same intensity for a large majority of the game, and didn’t make simple errors that have been made in the past.
2.) Henri Jokiharju
Something that has been interesting is how Jokiharju has become quite good at being a sound defensive defenseman. This season, there have been several instances where he has made incredible defensive plays on some of the top talents in the NHL.
One that stuck out on Tuesday night was the way he isolated Brady Tkachuk to one part of the ice, while Tkachuk was on a break into the Sabres' zone with the puck. Jokiharju was able to eliminate both a pass and shot opportunity for Tkachuk, while simultaneously staying on his feet and not over-correcting.
This kind of play can be very beneficial for a defensive partner like Rasmus Dahlin, or even a player like Owen Power in the future, given their offensive prowess. Having a guy like Jokiharju backing them up while they join the rush has to be a comforting feeling for defenders like Dahlin, because they know he’ll have their backs.
3.) Michael Houser
Aaron Dell has gotten all of the opportunities since he and Houser were called up together from the Rochester Americans to put a band-aid on the Sabres' goalie situation. Tuesday was Houser’s first game in the NHL this year.
Houser had a feel-good story last year, playing in his first NHL game against all odds, and even earning a pair of wins near the end of the season.
Like Dell, Houser probably isn’t a long-term solution for the team, but it’s a welcome sight to see a competitive effort from a goaltender put up against crazy odds.
Tuesday was no different for him, but he did not disappoint. After stopping 43 of 44 shots, Houser earned his first win of the season in his first game once again.
Tuesday's win snaps a two-game losing streak, as the Sabres improve to 12-20-7 on the 2021-22 season. Buffalo will next host the Dallas Stars on Thursday night at KeyBank Center. Dallas is 18-15-2 in the Central Division this year, and still trying to find a way into a playoff spot.
Sabres pregame coverage on WGR starts at 6 p.m. EST with Mike Schopp and the Bulldog. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. EST on the radio home of the Sabres - WGR Sports Radio 550.