After what seemed like an interminable mid-season break, and while Buffalo’s other team was busy cropping grass at Meadowlands, the Sabres returned to action with an offensive explosion against the worst team in the NHL, the Arizona Coyotes.
It was hard to tell if the Sabres were improved after their mini-holiday or if their opponents are truly awful, but it made for an open, end-to-end game for the most part with the hosts dominating the opening exchanges.
Robin Lehner kept the Sabres afloat with a couple of great one-on-one saves before Oliver Ekman-Larsson (can they just trade him to us already?!) scored off a pretty drop pass by Max Domi. With the period winding down, Benoit Pouliot reacted quickest to a rebound off the backboards setting up Kyle Okposo for his first of the season (!!) with a wrister under Antti Raanta’s glove with barely 0.9 seconds left on the clock.
The second period went even better, with Ryan O’Reilly feeding Pouliot to score on one of numerous 2-on-1’s that the Sabres managed to create. Raanta stopped Pouliot from scoring an almost replica goal, before Seth Griffith potted the Sabres’ third off a 3-on-1.
The Coyotes’ odd-man rush misery didn’t end there, with Evander Kane and Jack Eichel breaking on a 2-on-0 while shorthanded, finishing off a give-and-go move with Kane scoring to put Buffalo up 4-1. It then looked done and dusted with about nine minutes to play after Pouliot got his second of the game emulating Eichel going end-to-end and roofing the puck over the prone Raanta.
Arizona had clanged a couple off the posts in the third period already, and that fifth goal galvanized them, as they poured on the lead, scoring three times in the last seven minutes as the Sabres went into Alamo-mode (a la mode?).
There was a final heart-stopping moment with barely twenty seconds to go and the game at 5-4. In a melee right in front of Lehner, the puck squirted loose and sat in the blue ice with everyone facing the other way, and Johan Larsson was able to extract the puck to safety and preserve the lead for the win.
The final score remained 5-4, with Sabres outshooting the Coyotes 31-29. Click here for the detailed game report.
- Benoit Pouliot - 17:04 TOI, 2G, 1A, 3SOG, +2
- Kyle Okposo - 16:14 TOI, 1G, 1A, 1SOG, +2
- Zac Rinaldo - 10:49 TOI, 1G, 0A, 2SOG, +1
What to Watch
1. Justin Falk will return to the lineup
In his return from injury, Falk skated 15:32 and was a -1 on the night, with 1 shot and 2 hits, and was also responsible for one giveaway. To be honest, he didn’t catch my eye, in a good way or bad.
While we’re talking d-men, Phil Housley proved he wasn’t joking about Matt Tennyson who once again got a lot of ice time (18:28), drawing an interference penalty against Clayton Keller.
2. Can the Sabres take advantage?
The Coyotes certainly have some talent and there are some players that we’d gladly take on the Sabres roster (Keller, Domi, Ekman-Larsson). They looked good for half the opening stanza and the last few minutes, but in between those two phases was where Buffalo won the game.
You’ve got to win against teams worse than you, and the Sabres did just that last night.
3. No Justin Bailey or Nick Baptiste.
Bailey’s energy was missed last night, while Baptiste sat despite being called up for the trip. Griffith put in a decent performance on the third line, but why either of Jordan Nolan and Matt Moulson continue to get ice time remains one of those mysteries.
Comment of the Game
I’ll pick a double-barrelled comment here that reflected how most of Buffalo felt last night.