MONTREAL -- The Buffalo Sabres didn’t make it easy on themselves, but they got the job done.
The Sabres prevailed in the shootout, defeating the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 inside a packed Bell Centre on Sunday in their preseason opener. Zemgus Girgensons scored twice in the game and Mikhail Grigorenko netted the decisive goal on a nifty backhand in the shootout.
Defenseman Jamie McBain and camp invitee Colton Gillies also scored for Buffalo.
Michael Bournival tallied twice for Montreal. The Canadiens also received goals from Erik Nystrom and Martin St. Pierre.
Before they could reach the shootout however, the Sabres had to successfully kill off two penalties in the third and in the overtime period.
Buffalo didn’t hold a lead in the game until the very end and fought back from four one-goal deficits.
“We kind of knew they were going to come out hard here in an exhibition game with the crowd they did. I thought we got better as the game went on,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said. “But I liked a lot of our younger players and the poise that they had in an environment like this for the first time.”
Though the Sabres got into penalty trouble, particularly late in the game and in overtime, they killed off four of Montreal’s six power plays.
“We had a lot of kills and a lot of double odd-man situations which made it tough, but I think we hung in there,” Ott said. “Obviously there’s always room for improvement. That was our first real test.”
While Rolston and the coaching staff would rather not find themselves in so many shorthanded situations, developing players like Girgensons relished the opportunity to be on the ice during a crucial penalty kill.
“I think it’s really good for the team to be put in such tough situations before the real season because it still matters how we play here, but it’s a lot about learning and getting prepared for the regular season,” Girgensons said. “So I think it’s good putting us in those tough situations. It helps us down the road.”
Girgensons’ first goal came on the penalty kill 0:58 into the second period to tie the game at one. He scored again with 8:09 left in the period to make it 3-3, beating Furcale with a wrist shot from the off wing.
“He changed really the game, the momentum of getting the shorthanded goal and then getting the second goal he had on the short side,” Rolston said. “…I thought [Girgensons] was one of our best players tonight.”
The Sabres lineup Sunday featured heavily touted prospects like Grigorenko, Girgensons, Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Johan Larsson and Mark Pysyk mixed with veterans like Ott, Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta, Cody McCormick, Henrik Tallinder and Mike Weber.
Ott was impressed with the grit some of the younger players showed in the game. Ristolainen in particular blocked a hard shot early in the third period.
“The sacrifice is there. The compete is there and those are aspects you can’t teach,” Ott said. “When young guys are doing that and sacrificing themselves, it just shows they want to be on this team. Obviously, it bodes well throughout our lineup and the stable of young prospects that we have. ”
Ott served as captain for the game. Rolston said he will continue to rotate the “C” throughout the season before naming a full-time captain. Tallinder and Stafford served as the alternates.
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