EDMONTON – Rasmus Dahlin was in the middle of explaining how the Buffalo Sabers survived a third-period barrage led by Connor McDavid to win 4-2 when he paused and simply nodded his head toward his goalie, Eric Comrie.
“Thanks to him,” Dahlin said, letting out a few laughs at his dressing room stall Tuesday night after a tense 20 minutes in which the Sabers had to ward off a furious Edmonton Oilers attack that generated 23 shots on goal.
Comrie, making his second Sabers start in his hometown, delivered a career-high 46 saves. He wasn’t alone in helping Buffalo improve to 2-1, though.
The Sabers’ defense, down a man in the third period with Ilya Lyubushkin injured, cleared the front of the net and broke up several cross-ice passing plays by the Oilers. Buffalo’s forwards helped contain Edmonton’s attack to the outside, limiting McDavid and others to shots from the perimeter.
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Dahlin, Tage Thompson, JJ Peterka and Alex Tuch each had a goal to back Comrie.
“They were awesome clearing traffic,” Comrie said, crediting his defensemen. “They were outstanding making sure I could see everything, grabbing sticks. Even on the backdoor plays, it was amazing how many times guys got their sticks on plays to make them not execute the shot they wanted to execute.”
The Sabers were outshot 23-5 during a third period in which they blocked eight Edmonton attempts and generated only a few notable scoring opportunities. But it wasn’t long ago that Buffalo, the youngest team in the NHL, struggled to win close games. It’s a trend the Sabers corrected late last season and those lessons seem to have carried over into 2022-23.
It all began with a momentum-shifting play 44 seconds into the second period by Thompson. The Sabers’ first-line center cut across the high slot on his backhand, skated around defenseman Darnell Nurse to get to the front of the net and finished the play on his forehand by guiding the puck across the line with one hand on his stick to give the Sabers their first lead of the game, 2-1.
The highlight-reel play by the $50 million center was the capstone of an impressive second period in which Comrie made lead-preserving saves, Lyubushkin leveled another Oilers forward with a big hit and Peterka scored a breakaway goal.
“Ah, not too good,” Dahlin joked when asked about Thompson’s goal. “Disgusting. It’s so good that he scored that goal now. He’s going to stay hot the rest of the season.”
The Oilers (1-2) were pushing to tie the score early in the second period when a Leon Draisaitl turnover led to the Peterka breakaway goal and a 3-1 Sabers lead. Buffalo outshot Edmonton 10-1 over the first seven minutes of the second.
The game could have gotten away from the Sabers early, though. They managed only seven shots on goal across the first 20 minutes and gave the league’s best power play two opportunities to break Edmonton’s trend of starting slow. Comrie made key saves on Evander Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyson Barrie and Jesse Puljujarvi.
The Oilers had four high-danger scoring chances, according to NaturalStatTrick.com, but their only goal came 23 seconds after Dahlin’s when Nurse finished a 2-on-1 pass from Leon Draisaitl with 15:37 remaining to make it 1-1.
“He was unreal,” Dahlin said of Comrie. “He made so many big saves to keep us in the game.”
The Sabers accomplished so little offensively in the third period that Dahlin joked he didn’t execute one pass in those 20 minutes. Even without taking a penalty, Buffalo was hemmed in its own zone and unable to generate much with the puck.
Faceoff losses gave the Oilers more opportunities. Still, a responsible approach around Comrie had the lead at two goals until Nugent-Hopkins scored on a loose puck in the slot with Edmonton’s goalie pulled and an extra attacker on the ice to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 1:33 remaining.
The Oilers were trying to tie the score in the final minute when Tuch secured the win with an empty-net goal.
“He stood very tall,” Sabers coach Don Granato said of Comrie. “We did a great job of clearing guys out from that point or not allowing them to get good wood on the shot. Combination of the D and Comrie in net were outstanding. The best part of it was we were still confident all the way through .”
Here are other observations from the game:
Dahlin made history again in the first period when he became the first defenseman in franchise history to score a goal in each of the Sabers’ first three games in a season. His wrist shot off a faceoff win by Casey Mittelstadt at 4:00 into the game gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead and snapped its 0-for-8 skid on the power play.
According to the NHL, Dahlin and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedmen are the only NHL defensemen since 1992-93 to score in each of their team’s first three games of the season. For the game, Dahlin led the Sabers in shots on goal (5), but Owen Power had slightly more ice time at (23:41).
Peterka appeared calm as he stickhandled toward the Oilers’ net and he scored his second goal of the season by snapping the puck underneath the right leg pad of Stuart Skinner.
At 19 years old, Peterka has two goals and three points in the first three games of the season. His role is limited for now, though. His 12:09 of ice time Tuesday set a season high.
Sabers winger Jack Quinn was a healthy scratch against the Oilers after playing 11:25 and 9:33 against Ottawa and Florida, respectively. Quinn, 21, remained on the ice long after the morning skate concluded Tuesday and worked with the penalty kill during the brief team workout. The decision was made, Granato explained, to give Quinn a different perspective as he breaks into the NHL and doesn’t signal anything other than a break to learn.
“I don’t think it hurts Jack at all,” Granato said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for development, to sit back after a couple of games and take some different things in. He won’t be out long. He’s here. We know he’s a young guy in a high-development range of his career. It’s important for him to get ice time and also it’s important for him to step back, too, and not be in the fire all the time as part of the development process.”
The Sabres’ road trip continues Thursday with a game in Calgary against the Flames at 9:30 pm ET.