By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Let’s start this with another look back at an unwritten part of Buffalo Sabres’ history. After all, it is the team’s 50th anniversary.
Somewhere around 1980, I was watching a preseason game with Sabres’ public relations director and noted prankster Paul Wieland. The game was rather typical of the exhibition contests of that era – little spark, the odd rookie trying to fight his way on to the roster, no energy in Memorial Auditorium.
Paul was and is the type of personality in which he rebelled against idle moments. So we started writing notes on small scraps of paper and sending them off the edge of the press box to the fans below. Paul had done this before at a preseason game, so he was good at it. I was a rookie. We instructed fans to head to the souvenir stands for certain mythical, silly items. I believe one of them was a book on how the Sabres came up with titles for their coaching staff, since it was hard to tell the difference between “assistant coach” and “associate coach.” I heard later some ticket-holders follow instructions too.
During the first period of Wednesday night’s preseason home finale with the Columbus Blue Jackets, I found myself wishing Paul was there. We could have done some note-writing and headed to the catwalks above the KeyBank Center to distribute new material to the crowd. It was that sort of night for a while.
A worthwhile finish
Luckily for those of the 15,788 announced ticket-buyers who showed up for the game, the contest picked up after that. Buffalo came away with a 4-3 overtime win, which at least served to help the fans leave the building in a good mood. No one would have been pleased with 40 more minutes like the first 20, especially with a Blue Jackets’ lineup that would have felt right at home in Cleveland for the American Hockey League opener.
“We were really unhappy with the first period,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. “The puck management was insufficient. Our battle level was low. Competitiveness was low. We dropped off just a touch in practice (Monday). But I was pleased with our reaction in the second period.”
“We came out flat,” goalie Carter Hutton said. “You drop your game knowing that they don’t have their big guys in. Guys are trying to find their rhythm. Guys are learning to play together. We have guys in different spots.”
Hutton played all 60 minutes for the second straight night. Unless something happens between now and Opening Night, he certainly should be the starter in that game. Until then, it’s a matter of working on his game and not becoming too preoccupied on results.
“I’m not too worried about much,” Hutton said about training camp. “I’m trying to get back to a routine. At times, things go in and out. I have to get my focus back, into the swing of things. I’ve seen a lot of shots in practice, but it’s not like a game.”
While the skating part of the team has been busy this month trying to adapt its game to Krueger’s system of play, the goalies have been concentrating on stopping pucks. Still, Hutton says a new coach brings some changes.
“A little bit,” he said. “As we develop a better system in our own end, it will be a little more predictable for me. Last year, playing man on man, sometimes we got a little scrambly. We gave up a lot of high-quality, back-door chances, and second chances. If we do what we want to do here, it will be a little more predictable. It will be about making the first save and eliminating the second stuff.”
A fit for now
The training camp experience is a little different for Victor Olofsson than for the veterans. The rookie was slotted on the Sabres’ top line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. In a perfect world, Olofsson will fit in with two of Buffalo’s best forwards. That would allow Jeff Skinner, he of 40 goals last season, to slide down to the “second line” and make that group more dangerous.
In that area, Olofsson has been a fine fit. He scored another goal – his third in two home games – on Wednesday. Olofsson took a superb pass from Eichel that led directly to this latest goal.
“I’m really confident (playing with those two) out there,” Olofsson said. “Both are such great players. I’m trying to give them the puck and find an open space.”
Krueger added, “They are such smart hockey players, and with Victor feeding on that. It’s great to see that group come together. Sam and Jack feed off each other so well. There’s a synergy there.”
For the record, Marcus Johansson scored in overtime off a turnover in the Columbus zone. Tage Thompson and Reinhart had the other Buffalo goals. Nathan Gerbe, the ex-Sabre, had two goals for Columbus.
The preseason schedule ends on Saturday night in Pittsburgh. If you are hoping to get a look at some of the Sabres’ best players there, maybe you’d better cancel your plans to drive to Western Pennsylvania.
“We’re definitely not under any pressure there,” Krueger said. “I thought these two games were important to see us on the power play. We’ll be moving more at a view at our depth on Saturday with the lineup we’ll start. We need to know what we need to look at, and keep that competition until after the game on Saturday.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)