It ranks as one of the prettiest first goals scored by a Buffalo Sabres rookie in recent memory. Not only did winger Dylan Cozens unleash a wicked wrist shot from the right circle, he created his own goal by stripping the puck from Brian Pinho at center ice.
When Cozens, 19, scored 10:23 into second period, tying Friday’s game at 2, it appeared the Sabres had seized the momentum from the depleted Washington Capitals.
“It was a special moment and also a grade A goal,” coach Ralph Krueger said on a Zoom call following the 4-3 shootout loss at Capital One Arena. “He really picked his spot top corner and the whole bench was really ecstatic. It’s a special moment when you see somebody with that skill set, that future with the Buffalo Sabres, you know that’s a historic moment.”
Krueger said Cozens, the seventh overall pick in 2019, kept smiling the rest of the game following his highlight-reel goal.
“I saw a couple of other guys coming down and I saw them as options to pass to,” Cozens said of the goal. “I just took one quick look at the net and saw my spot and kind of just let it go. I don’t really remember too much. Kind of blacked out a bit. But it found its way in.”
But the boost the Sabres received from Cozens’ first goal was short-lived. Jakub Vrana put the Capitals up at 13:07 before Sabres winger Riley Sheahan tied it 42 seconds later.
When Krueger called on Cozens in the third round of the shootout, the Yukon native couldn’t believe the his coach offered him an opportunity to win the game.
“I have the game on my stick,” Cozens said. “I saw him drop his glove a bit and I thought I’d be able to get it over but he made a good save.”
Krueger said: “We were hoping he was going to do it again in the penalty shots just to crown the night. It was a pity, but he got his first NHL goal and that’s a big step for him.”
Washington’s John Carlson scored in the fourth round before goalie Vitek Vanecek stopped Sabres winger Sam Reinhart.
While the Sabres earned a point, they should’ve beaten the Capitals, who played without four of their top players – superstar Alex Ovechkin, No. 1 goalie Ilya Samsonov, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman Dmitry Orlov – because they violated the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. The Russians will miss three more games.
The Sabres, an NHL laughingstock for years, are just 1-3-1 this season.
Dahlin, 20, struggled defensively Friday, allowing Nicklas Backstrom to get behind him early and tie the game at 1. In the second period, Dahlin looked lost in front of his own net as Vrana scored an easy goal in close. The normally mild-mannered Swede reacted angrily by two-handing his stick into the ice.
He played only one shift after that – on power play early in the third period – and skated just 10 minutes, 8 seconds total. Thompson, meanwhile, did not play following a shift late in the second period and skated 8 minutes, 34 seconds total.
“With both of them, we felt at the time we were going to increase the ice time of some others players to push for the win,” Krueger said. “I’m sure they’ll both learn from it. There were certain instances we thought could’ve been taken better, and it’s back to the teaching with them tomorrow. We work together with them.
“I don’t think it should be overblown, but at the same time, sometimes taking ice time away from players really gets them to focus on the things they need to do better. I thought for both of them the decision was made more for the others than for them.”
“He looked like the kind of goalie we need from Linus … where he truly is taking care of the initial shots,” Krueger said. “We need to clear up the seconds.”
Notes: Sabres winger Kyle Okposo (lower body) missed his fifth straight game. The veteran could return Sunday, when Buffalo closes the two-game series in Washington. “We really want to be smart and patient,” Krueger said of Okposo. … Thompson returned Friday after sitting out Tuesday’s loss, skating beside Staal and left winger Victor Olofsson on the second line before he was benched. … Krueger switched Cozens to the third trio beside Cody Eakin and Tobias Rieder.