National Hockey League

Sabres aim to continue success vs. cold-starting Panthers

NHL1PANTHERS (1-2-0) AT SABRES (3-0-1)
7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, SN1, MSG-B, FS-F, NHL.TV

The Buffalo Sabres are off to a good start this season, getting seven of a possible eight points.

The Florida Panthers are off to slow start this season, playing three games in their home state and coming away with only two points.

With the Sabres set to host the Panthers on Friday night, it’s as if it were last season all over again.

Buffalo won three of its first five contests last year and later went on a 10-game winning streak that included seven games in which the Sabres prevailed after regulation.

Conversely, Florida got just two points out of its first four games last season.

In the end, neither team made the playoffs, and both clubs fired their coaches.

Florida got rid of Bob Boughner and hired Joel Quenneville, who won three Stanley Cup titles with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Panthers also spent big money to sign free-agent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract.

The early returns have not been good, however, as Bobrovsky (1-2-0) has an alarming 4.77 goals-against average. He was pulled after allowing four first-period goals to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

“You can’t get down at home like that,” Quenneville said. “It’s got to bother you. It’s got to hurt.”

Florida’s best player so far has been second-line winger Mike Hoffman, who has four goals and two assists. He scored a career-high 36 goals last season and is in the final year of his contract.

Buffalo, meanwhile, managed a league-low 28 points from Jan. 1 to the end of last season, including a stretch of 15 losses in 16 games. The Sabres dismissed Phil Housley and brought in Ralph Krueger, who hopes to end Buffalo’s eight-year playoff drought, which is the longest active skid in the NHL. Krueger is the fifth Sabres coach since Lindy Ruff was fired in 2013.

The Sabres are led by fifth-year center Jack Eichel, the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Eichel has started his career with four straight 20-plus-goal seasons and has three goals and four assists in the current campaign.

Eichel, who turns 23 on Oct. 28, had two goals and two assists, including setting up Marcus Johansson’s overtime goal in Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens.

“He can take over a game,” Johansson said of Eichel, who’s in the second year of an eight-season, $80-million contract. “What he can do with the puck at his size (6-2, 200 pounds) is impressive.”

But Eichel isn’t the only Sabres standout so far this season.

Rookie Victor Olofsson, a 2014 seventh-round pick, has emerged. He scored 30 goals last season in the American Hockey League before playing six games with the Sabres. On Wednesday, the 24-year-old became just the fourth player in NHL history to score his first six career goals on the power play. He has a team-high four goals this season.

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin — just 19 years old — appears headed to stardom. The first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and a native of Sweden, Dahlin leads Buffalo with six assists. He had 44 points as an 18-year-old rookie last season.

Veteran goalie Carter Hutton, a 33-year-old in his second season with the Sabres, is off to a great start with a 3-0-0 record and a 2.32 goals-against average.

Two other Sabres of note are first-line wingers Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart, who have combined for five goals and four assists this season. Last season, Skinner scored a team-high 40 goals, and Reinhart had 65 points.

Even so, it’s instructive to remember that the Sabres were shut out five times last March, becoming just the second NHL team to miss the playoffs during a season in which they had a 10-game win streak.

–Field Level Media

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