BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — It didn’t take long for Jack Eichel’s concerns to subside over whether a lengthy pregame ceremony celebrating the Sabres’ home-opening start to their 50th season would sap the team’s energy.
Rookie Victor Olofsson opened the scoring three minutes in, and the Sabres drew upon the energy of a raucous crowd in rolling to a 7-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
“I think we were all getting a little antsy, and wanted to make sure we were keeping the crowd in it,” Eichel said of a ceremony honoring the team’s past led to the start of the game being delayed by nearly 20 minutes after the Zambonis were forced to resurface the ice.
“It was good that we came out and had a good start,” he added. “It sparked the crowd and I think they were tremendous from there. I thought we used them to our advantage.”
On a night Eichel began by standing in a circle alongside 15 past Buffalo captains, he and the Sabres provided a hint of a more promising future for a team attempting to shed the weight of an eight-year playoff drought — the NHL’s longest active streak.
Olofsson and Sam Reinhart each scored twice, while Eichel and Jeff Skinner had a goal and assist each. Carter Hutton stopped 18 shots.
The Sabres, under new coach Ralph Krueger, built off the momentum of an efficient 3-1 season-opening win at Pittsburgh by getting off to their first 2-0 start since the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season.
Krueger became Buffalo’s fourth coach — and first since Jim Roberts in 1981 — to win his first two games.
“What a wonderful day for the fans, who got to see for the first time the heartbeat we have,” Krueger said. “What an opportunity for the guys to step up with game like this.”
The Devils were a step behind from the start, and a night after a monumental season-opening collapse in which they blew a 4-0 second-period lead in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
Their two goals came from Kyle Palmieri, in the opening minute of the second period, and Travis Zajac, in the opening minute of the third.
New Jersey otherwise was unable to withstand the Sabres’ fast-paced attacking style in a game Buffalo converted its first three power-play opportunities. Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 29 of 36 shots, a night after allowing two goals on nine shots in relief of starter Cory Schneider.
“A little too much watching, I think, right now and waiting for someone else to maybe do the work,” Zajac said.
Coach John Hynes was a little more blunt in assessing his team’s performance.
“We’re playing soft and light and we’re playing like we want to have an easy game,” Hynes said.
The game turned after Palmieri cut the Sabres lead to 2-1 by scoring from the right circle 37 seconds into the second period.
Okposo regained Buffalo’s two-goal edge by deflecting in Rasmus Dahlin’s point shot 2:12 later. The Sabres scored twice more over the next 11 minutes. The run was capped by Olofsson’s second goal, in which he flubbed a pass into the crease only to have the puck come directly back to him before he snapped it into the open right side.
Everything was tilting the Sabres way even their mistakes were going in.
“I made quite a bad pass and I got it right back on my tape. I was a little surprised,” Olofsson said. “I felt like we just kind of kept our cool and played the same way throughout.”
The five-goal margin of victory was the largest in Buffalo’s home-opener and the seven goals scored were the most since a 9-5 win over Boston in 1974.
“Definitely growing as a team, but we’ve got a long way to go,” cautioned Okposo. “It’s Game 2. We’ve got 80 left. Let’s not plan the parade right now.”
Among the former Sabres captains on hand were Gilbert Perreault and 84-year-old Floyd Smith, the first to wear the C in Buffalo. The game featured a matchup of the past three players drafted first overall in Devils rookie Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier (2017) and Sabres second-year defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Hischier registered his 100th career assist on Palmieri’s goal. Schneider served as the backup in being cleared to play after cramps led him to being unable to finish the game against Winnipeg.
The Devils visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday.
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