By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
You could almost imagine what was being said as the Buffalo Sabres skated off the ice with their first victory of the young season on Saturday night.
“Thank you, Carter.”
“Nice job, Carter.”
“Way to go, Carter.”
The Sabres might have thrown in a nickname – practically every hockey player has one – instead of the more formal first name. But the message was the same.
Hutton was absolutely brilliant in Buffalo’s 3-1 win over the Rangers before 16,824 in the KeyBank Center. He stopped New York’s first 39 shots in the game over the course of the first 55 minutes and 21 seconds of play. Hutton gave up a goal at that point on a scramble play in front by Brett Howden, but that was it. The netminder finished with 43 saves.
The rest of the Sabres were happy to go into more detail about their goalie after the contest.
“We all brought it tonight, but he definitely was the star of the game,” Conor Sheary said. “In that third period, they peppered us and had chances but he held strong. He let the one in, and he still saved it and it rolled in.”
“Our goalie stepped up. I thought he was our best player,” Jack Eichel said.
It was a rare night last season when a Buffalo goalie more or less stole two points for his team, but that was essentially what happened on this night – although no one could say that the Sabres didn’t improve from Thursday night’s performance.
“You get some breaks,” Hutton said. “I fought to get through traffic and found some pucks. I think the special teams made a difference.”
It was one of those nights when it was easy to pick out the most memorable of the 43 saves. A turnover created an extremely rare three-on-zero – maybe “three-on-oh!” would be a better way to say it – break for the Rangers. That’s not something you practice, but in the end Hutton was there to stop the shot.
“I don’t know what I can say there,” the goalie said. “I just tried to be patient. I think they overplayed it and tried one too many passes, and it got jammed up. I’m patient enough to get my edge, push over and make the save.”
If Hutton was the obvious choice as the game’s first star, Sheary wasn’t far behind. The Rangers got off to a good start, in part because of a Sabre penalty, but couldn’t score. Then Sheary got Buffalo on the scoreboard for the first time this season. The 16,824 in the building were no doubt relieved to know that the goal horn still worked after the extra-long layoff.
“I don’t think it was too much pressure,” Sheary said about the team’s first goal. “We were getting some chances, and the Boston goalie made some good saves.”
On the other hand, Sheary did have to cheat a little bit in order to get that first goal. He jumped on the ice a little early, giving the Sabres an extra skater on the play.
“When I came back to the bench I was told I had jumped a little bit early,” he said. “I guess I cheated the system a little bit.”
Coach Phil Housley added, “There was just some missed communication out there on a change on the power play. Sometimes if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying.”
Powerful power play
The man-advantage unit added a second goal on a nifty play. Eichel won a battle by the boards to get the puck and moved it to Sam Reinhart, who went across the crease to Sheary for the goal. Then it was just a case of holding on the rest of the way in the face of 20 New York shots in the third period. Eichel added an empty-netter in the last couple of seconds.
No game played on October 6 could be considered anything close to crucial for the Sabres. Yet this game didn’t feel trivial. Buffalo was coming off a loss on Opening Night that had the area’s hockey fans thinking that this was right where we all left off in April. Plus, the Sabres are starting a season on a four-game homestand, and the next two games are against two good teams in theory in Vegas and Colorado.
In other words, lose to the rebuilding Rangers, and the Sabres are staring at the possibility of a bad start. They avoided that with a reasonably good effort by most of the team, and an excellent one by their goalie.
“I thought it was a great hockey game,” Hutton said. “We both had our chances, and we battled to the end. I think everybody enjoyed this tonight.”
“This was an important game,” Sheary said. “We wanted to respond in the right way. We don’t want to lose a couple and get on a downward trend. Those are two huge points.”
Buffalo will try for two more on Monday afternoon in a special Columbus Day game against Vegas.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)