For the first time in over five-and-a-half years, the Buffalo Sabres are over the .500 mark. While the record is only 2-1-0, the team has looked markedly different than the squad fans saw on the ice nightly a year ago.
Aside from the opening game where the Boston Bruins clearly looked like the better team, the Sabres have played a game of hockey that we just aren’t used to seeing. It’s been enjoyable to watch.
Sure, they have been getting outshot by a wide margin thus far, but it’s not as though they are giving up prime scoring chances with each shot taken. Plenty of shots have come from the wall or the point. Through the first three games, the defense has looked like an actual NHL defensive unit as opposed to simply a number of pylons.
Whether you want to attribute it to the arrival of Rasmus Dahlin, or the fact that players are buying into head coach Phil Housley’s system is your prerogative. What’s certain is that players aren’t being left open in front of the net on every possession. Players are covering their assignments, and staying in position.
Talk about a sight for sore eyes.
What this leads to is something not seen since the last time the Sabres had a winning record: consistent offensive pressure.
With a goaltender like Carter Hutton in net, the Sabres defense doesn’t have to bring the puck up from behind their own net on every rush. Instead, they can start skating up ice as Hutton moves the puck, allowing shorter passes to the forwards or even the ability for players like Dahlin or Rasmus Ristolainen to bring the puck into the offensive zone themselves alongside players like Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner.
But what does this improvement in play actually mean to the fans who spend their hard-earned money on tickets every game? It means they can actually enjoy going to the KeyBank Center.
For years, it was more of a chore to use your Sabres tickets than it was a night of entertainment. The arena felt like a morgue with everybody sitting in silence as if to pay their respects to the fun that used to be had inside the building. In fact, more often than not, you were only going to the games to see players from the team Buffalo was facing.
On Monday, you heard a crowd actually enjoying itself. Fans were chanting “Let’s Go Buffalo!”, and cheering for anything — literally, anything — the team did well. In the past, those cheers would be more of the Bronx variety when they wouldn’t give up 20 shots in a period or a goaltender would make a routine save. The celebrations have gone from sarcastic to sincere.
It almost brings a tear to my eye to see fans have fun.
Again, it’s only three games into the season so we have to keep things in perspective, but it’s hard not to get excited about what we’ve seen through the first week of the season.