BUFFALO – A week ago, Sabres newcomer Evander Kane, a winger who has hit the 30-goal mark once in his six-year career, boldly said he wants score 40 or 50 times this season.
Was it brash? You bet. But Kane backed up his words Wednesday, starting his Sabres career splendidly by scoring twice in their 5-2 exhibition loss to the Ottawa Senators before an announced crowd of 17,298 fans inside the First Niagara Center.
“It gets you feeling good and gets the ball rolling a little bit,” said Kane, a February acquisition from Winnipeg.
Still, the new-look club channeled its recent past at times, often looking ugly and disjointed in the defensive zone.
Even with so many shiny new pieces – center Ryan O’Reilly and goalie Robin Lehner also debuted – the Sabres are still a work in progress. The club needs time to climb out of the abyss following two consecutive 30th-place finishes.
The Sabres, however, showcased some positives. The offense, almost non-existent for two seasons, pumped 42 shots on goal, six of them from Kane, who looked comfortable playing left wing with O’Reilly and Tyler Ennis on the new No. 1 line.
“It’s the first preseason game,” said Kane, who underwent shoulder surgery in February. “It’s kind of just to get your feet underneath you a little bit, especially for some of the younger guys. … I think it was a bit of a wakeup call for everybody, and I think we’ll be better next game.”
After the Sabres fell behind 3-0, Kane scored short-handed 2:23 into the third period and on the power play at 16:26. O’Reilly assisted on both goals and Ennis assisted on the second.
“It feels really good,” Ennis said. “You see O’Reilly makes those little plays out there. … You see Kane put two goals in, he just shoots the puck and it goes in. Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come.”
The Sabres, who got outshot almost nightly for two seasons, only allowed 26 shots. Lehner looked sharp at times, stopping 16 of the 19 shots he faced, including an early breakaway on Alex Chiasson. Andrey Makarov replaced him after 40 minutes.
“It is a work in progress,” Ennis said. “There’s things that we can build off of. Compared to last year, we would only throw up 20 shots a game. We still put up (42) shots.”
But the Sabres still had some big defensive lapses.
“That’s part of where we need to grow as a team, because the opportunities that they had were more golden and in the back of our net,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.