PITTSBURGH – Throughout training camp, coach Ralph Krueger insisted his Sabres had embraced the new ideas he and his coaching staff brought to Buffalo.
Krueger wants the Sabres to play fast, stay connected and utilize their instincts. It might take sacrificing a little offense, but in the end, he believes they can reap rewards from the aggressive new approach.
Based on Thursday’s 3-1, season-opening win against the Penguins, Krueger’s message is getting through to the Sabres.
“We have a full buy-in in the room,” Krueger said following his debut as Sabres coach. “I mean, you can just feel it from Day One.”
The Sabres, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary, pounced on the Penguins, grabbing the lead on winger Conor Sheary’s goal at 5:23.
Their forecheck stymied the Penguins, who generated little offense for stretches of the game and committed 17 giveaways.
“We began with a fury (in the) first 10 minutes dominating,” Krueger said. “For us to get the lead was good for our confidence, and the guys never left the foot off the gas. We stayed on our toes right to the finish line.”
The Sabres, of course, haven’t been responsive to their recent coaches.
Phil Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman, and Dan Bylsma, who led the Penguins to Stanley Cup in 2009, each lasted two seasons.
But in Krueger, perhaps they finally possess a coach who can get through to his players.
“There’s a lot of excitement around our room,” said Sheary, who also scored the game-winning goal. “We’ve got a new system in here and I think everyone enjoys playing in that.
“We’re playing aggressive and playing on our toes and creating a lot of turnovers. For us, it’s a lot of fun to play in and play together.”
Despite less than 10 minutes of ice time, Sheary torched his former team, scoring his second goal on the power play 14:03 into the second period.
Sheary, who won two Cups in Pittsburgh, loves playing his former teammates. He has scored four goals and six points in four outings against the Penguins.
Clearly, getting traded in 2018 created a chip on his shoulder.
“You just want to prove to people that you can still play,” Sheary said. “You kind of get the feeling that someone doesn’t want you when they trade you. I think I took that to heart.”
Center Casey Mittelstadt’s slip pass to Sheary in the right circle created his first goal.
“I’m sure he’s excited to come back and try to prove it to them,” Mittelstadt said.
Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s goal 19:16 into the second period sealed the Sabres’ first opening-night win since 2012-13.
Sabres goalie Carter Hutton quietly made 28 saves, outdueling Matt Murray, who stopped 38 shots.
“(Hutton) had one shot right in the slot right in the second minute, and you often forget those and it could’ve been a different story,” Krueger said.
In the waning minutes, most of the standing-room only crowd of 18,616 inside PPG Paints Arena filed out.
For the first time since April 23, 2013, the Sabres beat the Penguins in regulation. The Penguins had recorded a point in 18 straight games versus Buffalo (15-0-3) before Thursday.
In his first game as Sabres coach, Krueger, who hadn’t coached an NHL game since April 27, 2014 with the Edmonton Oilers, accomplished something his three predecessors couldn’t.
“You could tell he was excited,” Sheary said. “I think I saw him before camp and he was just ready to get going, he has all his plans, and I think we were all happy to get him one because he’s a fun coach to play for.”
Krueger said: “I said I was going to have fun this ride in the National Hockey League. These guys have helped that fun with games like tonight.”