BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a 4-1-1 start and a 5-1 victory over the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, the question I get asked every day is the way this team has been playing sustainably?
Working hard and paying attention to detail is always sustainable. I think a legitimate question is can Craig Anderson, Dustin Tokarski, Cody Eakin, Kyle Okposo, and Zemgus Girgensons continue their high level of play?
Of course, there’s going to be somewhat of a drop. Girgensons is not going to keep up a 68 point pace. Anderson is only, 40, and played just six games with the Washington Capitals last season. Many think that’s a negative for him trying to fill his role this season. I disagree. I think playing only six games will make him fresher and sharper for this season.
Tokarski made an NHL team for the first time since 2015. He of course is hungry and has worked in the off-season to prepare for what is probably his last chance. He has won the Calder Cup in the AHL, so he played well there.
Girgensons and Okposo are rejuvenated as they share the team captaincy. It’s their team now, they don’t have to worry about stepping on Jack Eichel’s toes. It’s a responsibility they take very seriously.
I don’t think the player's belief in Don Granato is going to waiver. They trust him because they feel he makes them a better team and better players. I don’t think that trust will waiver either.
The key to keeping the season on an upward swing is to make sure when things start going bad, you don’t let it get out of control. There can’t be any 10 games losing streaks. You must keep believing in yourself and knowing you’ll get out of it.
The game against the Lightning was another example of how they keep searching for ways to win inside of games.
In the second period, Tampa Bay spent pretty much the whole period in Buffalo’s end. Anderson kept making the saves and by the time the period was over, Buffalo had scored the only goal despite being outshot 11-3. All three shots were good scoring opportunities. One saw Brian Elliott get across the crease to rob Anders Bjork and the other was a goal by Drake Caggiula.
If you have any questions if they respect their coach, Granato walked into the room and told them in no uncertain terms that they were showing the Lightning way too much respect and the only way to win the game is to start driving the play again which they promptly did. The Sabres outshot the Lightning 13-11 and scored three more goals in the third period.
Another reason Buffalo won this game is they didn’t have Rasmus Ristolainen not being able to solve pressure which would lead to guys like Steven Stamkos scoring goals. Mark Pysyk is an extremely intelligent hockey player and him along with Robert Hagg never gave Stamkos, Brayden Point, or Ondrej Palat even a sniff. Pysyk was on the ice for four Buffalo goals and no Tampa Bay goals. Give me smart players every time and you’ll win more than you’ll lose.
So is this sustainable? I can’t say and neither can you because none of us have a clue. It’s all-new, we haven't seen a play like this around here in 10 years, so it’s just a ride that everybody needs to go on to see where the stop is where everybody will have to get off. I’d say enjoy it now, don’t fret about what it will be later.