Quick Hits: Sabres vs. Coyotes

Kane


Last season, when these two teams met at the First Niagara Center on March 26, it was a battle of the worst teams in the National Hockey League. Both teams were trying to finish in last place to guarantee themselves the chance of drafting in one of the top two draft positions to get either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Perhaps, it was rock bottom for the Buffalo Sabres organization, as Buffalo fans were cheering for the Arizona Coyotes to beat Buffalo in their home building. In the end, Buffalo would lose the game in overtime thanks to a goal from former Coyotes forward, Sam Gagner.

Nearly nine months later, these two teams meet again, each with a new look and attitude on the team.

Buffalo ended up loosing the Draft Lottery and selected Jack Eichel with the second overall pick in the NHL Draft. The Sabres also went out and added Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn, Evander Kane, and company. Instead of the Sabres in 30th place in the NHL standings, the team sat 23rd with 23 points on the season.

For the Coyotes, they ended up dropping from second to third in the Draft, where they selected Dylan Strome. Even without Strome, the Coyotes are still a young, fast, and exciting group to watch. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have been electric this season, posting a combined 16 goals and 35 points. The Coyotes came into Friday night’s matchup with 27 points, and sitting in third place in the Pacific Division.

In the first period, it was a physical affair with guys throwing the body around. Rasmus Ristolainen threw a couple of good hits in the period, as well as Josh Gorges and Jamie McGinn.

The only goal of the period came off the stick of Coyotes forward, Max Domi. Domi got loose behind the Sabres defense, went in all alone, and puts the put behind Chad Johnson.

In the period, shots were even at seven a piece, but Buffalo struggled in the final 10-minutes of the period after getting off to a pretty good start.

After a slow start to the second period, the Sabres got on the board thanks to Sam Reinhart. At the 7:17 mark of the period, Reinhart took the bouncing puck below the red line and tried to throw the puck back to the front of the net. The puck ended up going off the leg of Mike Smith and into the back of the net for the game-tying goal.

About six and a half minutes later, Jack Eichel set up Jamie McGinn for a one-timer that squeaks through the five-hole of Smith, and Buffalo gained its first lead on the night.

After two periods, Buffalo held the 2-1 lead and out shot the Coyotes 10-7 in the period.

Evander Kane put the Sabres up 3-1 with a shorthanded goal with 17:20 left in the third period. He had a ton of room to move in on Smith, and he put his shot in the top corner, blocker side.

Max Domi was quick to answer with his second goal of the night at the 6:42 mark of the third to make it a 3-2 score.

Five minutes later, Marcus Foligno would put Buffalo back ahead by two with a shot from the left side of the net that just gets through Smith.

Evander Kane would add an empty net goal with under a minute left to play to give the Sabres a 5-2 win over the Coyotes.

“There wasn’t a lot of energy or a lot of jam in the game in the first [period],” said Sabres head coach, Dan Bylsma. “I thought the hit by [Nicolas] Deslauriers was a change in the game for us. We started to apply a lot of pressure, and we really came at them in waves. We got a huge goal from Sam, and net front [presence] from [Kane]. Then we kept the pressure going in the second period, kept them on the ice, and Jack makes a player to [McGinn] for a big goal. I thought our team was coming hard at that point of time.”

Let us reflect on the highlights of this Sabres win over the Coyotes:

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        • Kane-ROR-Reinhart = lights out

Hey Dan Bylsma, this is your best line combination right now. Please, keep them together.

The top line of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Reinhart were clicking all night long, and the team fed off the line’s energy throughout the game.

On the night, the three combined for three goals, one assist, eight shots on goal, and were a combined 74.5-percent in terms of puck possession.

“You look at all our lines, we can all get in and pressure them and try to cause turnovers,” said Sabres forward, Sam Reinhart. “I think we all try to play the same way, and we definitely are playing our best and generating those chances when we’re keeping it simple.”

When the Sabres go on the road for its three-game road trip in Western Canada, this line needs to stay in tact. It is Buffalo’s best line, and the line that can set the tone for a hockey game.

        • Bylsma finally wins a coach’s challenge

Dan Bylsma has had the worst luck when it comes to coach’s challenges.

The Sabres have had a majority of the challenges go against them, whether it is an offsides, goalie interference, or what have you.

On Friday, it was the first time all season that Bylsma challenged a call on the ice that went in his favor.

“It was a critical time in the game,” said Bylsma. “It would have got the game back to a one-goal-game… [Johnson] reacted, and given the time left in the game, we were probably going to challenge no matter what we heard from upstairs.”

The Sabres had a call stand in their favor after Nashville had challenged a goalie interference call last week Saturday, but Bylsma finally getting a call turned over in his favor.

    • IT’S KANE! SHORTHANDED!

After five shorthanded goals in the preseason, the Sabres went into Friday’s game without a shorthanded goal in the regular season.

It was Evander Kane that ended that drought.

“Considering our preseason record, I don’t think you’re ever looking for those opportunities when you’re going over the boards to kill penalties,” Bylsma said. “It’s a bit surprising with the speed we have, and the guys we have killing the penalties that we haven’t gotten a better opportunity yet. As soon as the puck bounced out there, I had a good idea Evander was going to capitalize with the speed he has.”

Kane received an outlet pass from Zemgus Girgensons that gave him a breakaway on Coyotes goalie, Mike Smith. Kane ripped a shot past the blocker of the Coyotes netminder to give the Sabres a 3-1 lead early in the third period.

“We changed up the PK strategy a little bit there,” Evander Kane said. “[Girgensons] made a good play to disrupt their breakout, I was able to get it and put it away.”

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    • Larsson cannot catch a break

It has been a struggle for Johan Larsson all season long.

After a strong finish to last year, he was poised to have a breakout year in Buffalo under Dan Bylsma’s system. So far, Larsson has come up empty on the score sheet.

In 23 games this season, Larsson has no goals, and three assists on just 28 shots on goal.

On Friday, he took his first penalty of the season, which he almost redeemed himself for when he came out of the penalty box. Larsson caught up to the loose puck, went in all alone on Smith, but Smith stoned him on the goal line with the right pad. Larsson tried again to whack at the puck that sat along the post, but to no avail.

Kind of feel bad for the guy, get a golden opportunity like that to get his first goal and have it taken away by only inches.

Close, but no cigar this time.

    • Coyotes will be super fun in a few years

Though Domi and Duclair are fun to watch? They are only the beginning.

The Coyotes are stacked with high-end prospects, including Christian Dvorak and Dylan Strome, who are currently tied for second in the Ontario Hockey League for scoring with 51 points.

Nick Merkley is another first round pick in the system, and is having a good year in Kelowna with the Rockets with 25 points in 23 games.

Other prospects with NHL potential in the Coyotes system include Christian Fischer, Brendan Perlini, and Kyle Capobianco.

Like the Sabres, when all of their prospects develop, Arizona could be one of the most electrifying teams in the NHL.

Written by Brayton Wilson

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