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Sabres observations: Kyle Okposo’s 1,000th game spoiled by blowout loss to Bruins


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The Buffalo Sabres have hit all the right notes when it comes to honoring individuals in the organization over the last few seasons. Rick Jeanneret got an epic sendoff in his final season in 2021-22. Last season, Ryan Miller’s jersey retirement was one of the most memorable nights of Buffalo’s season.

Prior to the Sabres’ game against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, captain Kyle Okposo got his turn as the team honored him for appearing in his 1,000th NHL game. Okposo isn’t one to seek the spotlight, but he tried to soak in the last few days leading up to this game because he knew what it meant to his family. His wife, Danielle, and their four children were all on the ice before the game and featured in a pregame video. Okposo got choked up as he looked up at the videoboard.

“Tough to put into words what that video meant and just that my family was there to celebrate it with me was extremely special,” Okposo said.

“No better guy.”

Watch all of the congratulatory messages for Kyle Okposo: https://t.co/weIicUpLMs pic.twitter.com/zaGC06EeHn

— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) November 15, 2023

Okposo, 35, has been a major part of the Sabres’ turnaround over the last few seasons. And that wasn’t always a guarantee. At one point during his career with the New York Islanders, Okposo suffered a detached retina that could have ended his career. When he signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Sabres in 2016, he didn’t envision going through multiple rebuilds with the team. In 2017, he also suffered a scary concussion that caused psychological effects that landed him in the intensive care unit. That wasn’t his last concussion, either.

So getting to 1,000 games with this group of players was difficult for Okposo to imagine.

“It’s special because I know where we’ve been and I know where we are now,” Okposo said. “And that’s something I’m the most proud of, is what we have in that room and what they’re going to continue to in that room for hopefully a long time is something that is tangible. And I don’t know how many wins come from that, how that translates on the ice, but I know that it does. And I can see it in the way they treat each other, how they treat everybody else, how respectful of a group they are. But how much they care about each other, that means the world to me. To be playing with those guys, it’s a ton of fun.”

He was named captain prior to last season and re-signed this summer to try to help this group get to the playoffs. Whenever this version of the Sabres eventually gets to the playoffs, he’ll have had a hand in it whether he’s still with the team or not. You can tell by listening to the players in the room talking about their captain and the example he sets on and off the ice.

He’s also a trusted confidant of both general manager Kevyn Adams and Sabres coach Don Granato. This week, Granato and Okposo met for 25 minutes so the coach could get a gauge of what the players were feeling. Okposo’s thought was that the Sabres needed to get back to being themselves and stop trying to be something else.

That didn’t quite happen Tuesday. In the first period, the Sabres fell behind 3-0 as the Bruins capitalized on early scoring chances. The Sabres would eventually fall behind 5-0 before Victor Olofsson scored two late goals to make the final score 5-2. This wasn’t the way the Sabres wanted the celebration to end for Okposo and his family. Granato knows that will weigh heavily on Buffalo’s players.

But he also noted that the team needs to look in the mirror after yet another slow start. The Sabres’ record dropped to 7-8-1 on the season with the loss, and seven of their next eight games are on the road.

“I just think we have to get back to — I’ve said it before — what makes us good,” Okposo said after the game. “And, you know, that’s pressuring pucks and being fast, that’s being all over teams and then when we do have it, using our speed, using our creativity, still playing smart with the puck but just putting pressure on teams when we do have it that, ‘Oh my God, these guys can score every time they touch the puck.’ And that might take a little bit of time, and that’s something that I think maybe we took for granted a little bit coming into the year that, hey, we scored so many goals last year we kind of thought we were going to come in and just do the same thing and that would be in our back pocket more. It hasn’t been and it’s something we’ve got to work at and we’ve got to talk about. We’ve got to continue to find that and find what really makes us successful.”

Quick hits

1. Granato revealed after the game that Tage Thompson will miss, “probably significant time,” with an apparent wrist injury after he blocked a shot on the penalty kill when the Sabres were trailing 4-0. He also left the game earlier after getting cut on the leg by a skate blade, but that injury was one he could play through. The Sabres are hoping to get Alex Tuch back Friday, but Thompson’s absence leaves a major hole in the lineup. Casey Mittelstadt and Dylan Cozens will have to carry the load as the top two centers on the team, and Granato and Adams will have to consider another call-up from Rochester, too.

2. Olofsson getting two goals didn’t impact the game. But for a player who has been in and out of the lineup and came into the game without a goal this season, those two goals were badly needed. It remains to be seen whether Olofsson can start stringing together more production. He said it’s been frustrating being in and out of the lineup and it has made it difficult to get into a rhythm. But with Thompson injured, Matt Savoie back with his junior team and Brandon Biro in the AHL, Olofsson should get more opportunities.

3. Devon Levi was pulled from this game after allowing five goals. He was not sharp, stopping just 13 of the 18 shots he faced. Two of the Bruins’ first three shots found the back of the net, and the first goal came on a juicy rebound Levi left out front. Levi had his best performance of the season against the Minnesota Wild last week and now has turned in his worst performance as a pro. These are the highs and lows the Sabres signed up for when making a rookie goalie part of their regular rotation in the crease. Now the challenge is making sure Levi can handle that.

“Obviously you hope he responds well,” Granato said. “You do what you can to help him through this. All of these situations are gained experience. Unfortunately, not good experiences. But experience you need to gain. He’s competitive. He battles. He’s very intelligent about the position and about himself as well. He’ll respond. This is what you go through. It’s an 82-game grind. Pro sports are unrelenting. You’ve got to fight back.”

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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