The big picture, of course, was not good for the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. But at least things went well with one of the day’s main subplots.
In his first game of the season – and thus his first game in nearly a year thanks to the lockout – winger Ville Leino had a strong first period and a solid game, showing he was capable of again taking a regular shift after months of battling a damaged hip.
Leino played 18 shifts totaling 15 minutes, 55 seconds while manning right wing on a line with Tyler Ennis and Steve Ott. He was at 13:26 of even-strength time and 2:29 on the power play, finished with two shots on goal and drew the assist on Mike Weber’s goal at 8:52 of the first period that opened the scoring.
“I got a little tired at the end but I still felt pretty good,” Leino said after the 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa. “It’s a clean slate, a new coach, a new year so I’m feeling pretty comfortable. If you feel like you’re comfortable, it looks like you’re skating better too.”
“I liked what I saw tonight from him,” said interim coach Ron Rolston. “Puck posession and some of the things he can do I thought he did a good job with.”
Leino was in the starting lineup and helped the Ennis line keep the Senators bottled up in their own zone for the first 45 seconds. On Weber’s goal, Leino worked hard from behind the net to get the puck to the point and Weber was patient before shooting, freezing Matt Kassian before floating home his first goal of the season and first since Jan. 21, 2012 at St. Louis.
“Those are big parts of my game,” Leino said of digging the puck from deep in the zone. “Now that I’m a winger, I get a lot more chances to play down low and work the puck and battle there. It felt good today, we’ll build on that hopefully.”
A big curiosity will be how Leino’s hip responds tonight in Washington, playing a back-to-back set of games.
“That will be his next test here,” Rolston said. “That was some of the reason why we wanted to make sure he was ready to go and as fit as he can possibly be in game-type experience in practice. So we hope we can put that game back together on back-to-back nights.”
“Tomorrow will be a new day so we’ll see,” Leino said. “Will it get better or get worse? I didn’t feel pain. I think it will be fine.”
Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff wasn’t happy with the penalty he got nailed for at 2:16 of overtime that turned into the Senators’ winning goal. Ehrhoff was called for interference at center ice on Mika Zibanejad in a battle for the puck as the Ottawa winger was trying to pull away from him, and didn’t like referee Dan O’Rourke’s explanation.
“It wasn’t what he told me he saw,” Ehrhoff said. “He thought I pulled him with my left hand, and I didn’t. I just took a swing with my right [with the] stick, and that was basically it. I don’t think it was the right call there.”
Kyle Turris’ power-play goal dropped the Sabres to 0-2 in overtime decisions this year, with the other loss coming here Jan. 29 to Toronto on Matt Frattin’s goal with less than two seconds left. Saturday’s loss dropped Buffalo’s all-time record in OT decisions to 93-93 since regular season overtime was instituted in 1983.
Rolston on the decision to return 18-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko to junior hockey: “With where we were at as a team, it was difficult to give him an opportunity that he probably needed developmentally. For our organization right now, the best thing for him would be to go play in the [Quebec League] playoffs, get playoff experience, really be a really big part of that team and be in every situation.”
Defenseman Andrej Sekera was being evaluated for an upper-body injury after the game and Rolston said a callup from Rochester, likely Adam Pardy, could be in the offing. … In part because Sekera was limited to 15:39, Tyler Myers played a season-high 24:38 and finished with a plus-1 rating. … Drew Stafford’s two-goal game was his first at home since March 25, 2011 against Florida. … The Senators have played 11 straight one-goal games, one shy of the NHL record of 12 set by the 1997-98 Chicago Blackhawks. Ottawa’s record is 5-2-4 in those games.