Former Sabres captains help kick off 50th season

Sabres dominate in 7-2 win over Devils

Tim Wenger
October 05, 2019 - 9:46 pm

WGR Photo/Brian Koziol

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN/AP) — Floyd Smith still vividly remembers the ceremonial faceoff he took against Montreal Canadiens captain Jean Beliveau before the Buffalo Sabres’ first home game in franchise history.

″(Beliveau) let me win it,” Smith said with a laugh.

At 35, Smith was lured out of retirement to serve as the Sabres first captain in 1970.

Some 50 years later, the 84-year-old Smith was back in Buffalo on Saturday night. Amid chants of “Let’s Go Buffalo!” Smith dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff and to kick off the Sabres’ golden anniversary season before their home opener against the New Jersey Devils.

“Ah, that was neat,” Smith said, reflecting back to the one-plus season he spent in Buffalo before retiring. “You don’t think as much about it then as you do now, how important it was.”

Smith, who eventually went on to coach the Sabres, was among 15 former team captains on hand for the team’s home opener. The group included Gilbert Perreault, Mike Foligno, Michael Peca and Brian Gionta.

The Sabres distributed commemorative T-shirts to each fan, and celebrated their past with a lengthy video montage featuring numerous on- and off-ice highlights broadcast on the video scoreboard.

The former captains walked the red carpet in front of fans outside the arena before the game, and were each then introduced on the ice during a pre-game ceremony.

They wore the Sabres’ specially designed 50th anniversary jerseys featuring a gold-emblazoned buffalo and two crossed swords on the chest.

Perreault joked about how tight-fitting his No. 11 jersey was by saying it’s been a while since he was at his playing weight.

Perreault, who still holds most every offensive franchise record, including 512 goals and 1,326 goals, said it was a privilege to spend his entire 16-plus season career with one team.

He recalled Buffalo’s first home game, a 3-0 loss to Montreal, as being special because he was from Quebec and played his junior hockey in Montreal.

“I thought I was going to play against my idol, Jean Beliveau that night,” Perreault said. “But I didn’t have a chance to play one shift against him.”

The Sabres and Vancouver Canucks were part of the NHL’s second wave of expansion by entering the league together in 1970.

Buffalo won the spin of a wheel to earn the right to draft Perreault with the No. 1 pick ahead of Vancouver, and went on to reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1975. The Sabres, coached by Smith, lost in six games to Philadelphia.

The 50th anniversary comes at a time the Sabres are in the midst of their toughest stretch in team history. They’re eight-year playoff drought is a franchise worst and ranks as the NHL’s longest active streak. And Buffalo has not won a playoff series since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2007.

Under new coach Ralph Krueger, the Sabres are coming off a season-opening 3-1 win at Pittsburgh.

“They had a good start with a win, so I’m hoping it’s going to be a great year,” Perreault said.

As for the game?  The former captains and fans had a lot to celebrate.

Rookie Victor Olofsson scored twice and the Sabres kicked off the home-opening portion of their 50th anniversary season with a 7-2 romp over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.

The Sabres had a sold-out house in a full-throated roar from the pregame ceremony, through a three-goal second period and once more when Sam Reinhart capped the rout with a breakaway goal with 3:44 remaining.

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.

Reinhart scored twice while captain Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner had a goal and assist each. Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart also scored. Carter Hutton stopped 18 shots.

The five-goal margin of victory was the largest in Buffalo's home-opener and the seven goals scored was the most since a 9-5 win over Boston in 1974.

The Devils came out flat 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.

Olofsson opened the scoring 2:56 with a one-timer from the left circle, where he was set up by Eichel's pass through the slot.

Olofsson then played a major role in Eichel's goal scored with 2:34 left in the opening period. Off a faceoff to the right of the Devils net, Olofsson got his body on Devils defenseman Damon Severson, forcing his pass attempt to dribble to the side of the net.

Before Blackwood could get his glove down on the puck, Buffalo's Jeff Skinner poked it loose and into the crease, where Eichel swept it into the open side.

The Sabres looked nothing like the team that wilted at the first sign of adversity in its previous two seasons under coach Phil Housley.

Okposo regained Buffalo's two-goal edge by tipping in Rasmus Dahlin's shot from the right point 2:12 after Palmieri cut the lead to 2-1.

Reinhart had his shot from the right circle bank in off the crossbar 2:58 after Zajac scored to cut the lead to 5-2.

NOTES: The Sabres celebrated the home-opening of their 50th season with 15 former team captains present. They included the team's first captain, 84-year-old Floyd Smith, who dropped the puck during a ceremonial opening faceoff. ... 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. ... Devils G Cory Schneider served as the backup in being cleared to play after cramps led him to being unable to finish the game against Winnipeg.

UP NEXT

Sabres: At Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday.

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