After five games off from their bye week, the Buffalo Sabres seemed to have the perfect tune up on the schedule this weekend. Back to back road games against the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes–two bottom dwelling Western Conference teams–were exactly what Buffalo needed to shake off some rust.
But the only things shaking are fans heads. After being smashed 5-3 in Denver on Saturday, the Sabres utterly collapsed in Glendale this evening, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Coyotes in what can only be called baffling.
Everything was in place for Buffalo complete a rebound after the disaster against Colorado the night before. They reached the scoreboard first with a tally late in the opening period, and they doubled up their lead nearly midway through the second. Even when Buffalo’s shots weren’t managing to find the back of the Arizona net, they were pressuring the Coyotes for forty minutes straight and outshooting them. Their penalty kill was flawless.
Anders Nilsson–making his first start since February 7th, and just his second in a month–was pitching a shutout after 45+ minutes played. Among all players, he was promising the biggest turnaround, having given up four goals in each of his previous two starts.
6:42 of the third period is where everything began to unravel. After a scramble near the Buffalo net, the puck bounced in between the circles, but no Sabres hurried to claim it. Second-year NHLer Max Domi was the first to oblige, promptly flinging it past Nilsson and putting the Coyotes on the board.
13:41 saw another moment of questionable hustle come back to bite the Sabres. As Nilsson sprawled following a save, a loose puck landed just outside the crease, and former-Sabre Jamie McGinn hastened to get a stick on it before anyone else, tying the game and earning his 9th goal of the year.
The most agonizing of Arizona’s tallies came exactly six minutes later, with a mere 19 seconds left on the clock. Buffalo failed to clear the puck from their zone as the Coyotes applied pressure, and radim Vrbata made them pay for it. His slapshot from afar snuck through a crowd before finding its way past Nilsson and becoming the game-winning goal. With it, Vrbata continued a four-game goal streak.
Nilsson finished the night with 26 saves against Arizona’s 29 shots. At the opposite end of the ice, Louis Domingue kept the Coyotes in the game before the rest of his teammates found their rhythm, stopping 31 of Buffalo’s 33 shots.
He was only beaten the Boston University connection. Jack Eichel opened the scoring with his patented laser of a wristshot at 18:01 of the first. His former college teammate, Evan Rodrigues, notched his second goal in as many nights at 9:53 of the second with a one-timer that Jake McCabe and Eichel helped set up. Prior to the weekend, Rodrigues had not scored in his first eight NHL games this season.
Buffalo will return home this Tuesday for another Western Conference matchup, but this time against one of the West’s best in Nashville. The Predators will enter that night on a three-game win streak, with their most recent victories coming over Washington and Edmonton. That game is scheduled for a 7:00 PM EST puck drop from KeyBank Center.