Buffalo Sabres, Column, Devon Levi, JJ Peterka, News and Rumors

Buffalo Sabres News & Rumors: Levi, Peterka, Power & Dahlin

The first game of the 2023-24 season is not one the Buffalo Sabres will remember with pride. The team struggled in their season-opener against the New York Rangers, losing on home ice 5-1.

Given the team’s high aspirations for the season, it was not an auspicious beginning for this young group. Although the Sabres showcased their promising young talent during training camp, for some reason, the team came out flat in the season’s inaugural game. 

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Rookie goalie Devon Levi was given the starting job to begin the season. That made him the youngest Sabres goalie to start an opener since 2000. He’s shown promise during his previous outings, but he struggled to contain the powerful Rangers’ offense. The Rangers Chris Kreider, in particular, was a force. He scored both a power-play goal and a short-handed goal.

Related: Sabres’ Brandon Biro Deserves Shot at NHL

In this edition of Sabres News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at parts of the game as well as what players made an impact with the Sabres.

Item One: The Rangers Defense Thwarted the Sabres’ Attack

The Sabres faced some difficulty dealing with the Rangers’ defensive style. By clogging the middle of the offensive zone, they forced the Sabres shooters to hesitate before attempting their shots. Sabres’ head coach Don Granato stated that the biggest challenge the Sabres encountered was not pulling the trigger on shots.

Don Granato Buffalo Sabres
Don Granato, Head Coach of the Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers’ defense was strong all game long and limited the Sabres to just 12 shots through the first two periods. In addition, their penalty-killing unit blocked shot after shot. Once they got the lead, the worked hard to preserve it. They did.

Item Two: John-Jason Peterka Was a Bright Spot in Sabres’ Loss

Although the Sabres lost, there were few silver linings. John-Jason Peterka scored Buffalo’s only goal. It came in the second period when he bounced on a blocked shot to beat Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin with a quick wrister. His goal cut the Sabres’ lead to 3-1. But, it was only a brief reprieve before the beatdown continued.

Related: Sabres’ Owen Power Out to Earn His New Contract

The 22-year-old Peterka is growing in his offensive abilities. Last season, he had a solid rookie season, scoring 12 goals and adding 20 assists (for 32 points). Fans should expect him to play a key role in the team’s second line, partnering with Dylan Cozens and Victor Olofsson. 

Item Three: Devon Levi Had a Tough Start in the Season Opener

It was an especially tough season opener for 21-year-old goalie Devon Levi. Despite the high hopes for him as the Sabres’ key crease protector, this game was not his strongest. But give the Rangers credit. Levi faced a barrage of shots from the Rangers’ offense.

Devon Levi Buffalo Sabres
Devon Levi, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In total, Levi faced 30 shots on goal and allowed four goals. The Rangers scored twice in the first period and added another goal in each of the final two periods. It was a tough learning lesson for Levi, but expect him to pull up his socks and work hard to earn the trust he was given by being named the team’s Opening Night starter.

Despite this challenging first-game start, fans should remain optimistic about Levi’s future with the team. The young goalie showed promise in his rookie season, posting a 5-2 record with a .905 save percentage across seven games. 

Related: Zach Benson Makes the Sabres’ Roster Much Better

As the 2023-24 season continues, fans should expect that Levi will have a good shot to claim the starting goalie’s job. That said, both Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen are waiting in the wings for their chances as well.

What’s Next for the Sabres?

The timing of the Sabres’ loss was interesting. It came on the heels of the organization’s huge defensive investment. This past week, the organization announced future spending totaling $146.45 million on the defensive twosome of Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin. Specifically, Dahlin’s new contract extension calls for an eight-year, $88 million. Then Power followed a couple of days later by signing a seven-year, $58.45 million deal. 

Rasmus Dahlin Buffalo Sabres
Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the season’s opener, the Sabres were working to build for the future but were jolted into the now. For a team as young as this one, the game serves as a reminder that any NHL team will face its share of challenges along the path to the playoffs. 

As my father used to say, get up, get over it, and get to work. This was just one game. I, for one, do not underestimate the team’s young talent and potential. I also believe the team has solid coaching in Granato. Things will improve as the season unfolds.

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