Quick Hits: Sabres at Coyotes

Sabres-Coyotes

After a quick two-game home-stand this past weekend, the Buffalo Sabres were back out west to start a two-game road trip in Arizona against the Coyotes on Monday at Gila River Arena.

The last matchup between these two teams came on December 4 at the First Niagara Center when the Sabres came away with a 4-1 win over the Desert Dogs.

This time around, the Sabres got a similar result with a 2-1 win over the Coyotes in Arizona.

The first period was quite uneventful for both teams, as neither team managed to find the back of the net. The Coyotes did manage to out-shoot the Sabres in the period by an 11-9 total.

Just 1:18 into the second period, the Sabres got the best chance to get on the scoreboard first with an Evander Kane penalty shot. Kane got behind the defense, and was brought down by Coyotes forward, Mikkel Boedker. On the attempt, Kane tried to go high on the blocker side, but Coyotes goalie, Louie Domingue got a piece of the shot and the puck went over top of the net.

The game would remain scoreless until the Coyotes got into some penalty troubles midway through the second period. In the dying seconds of a 5-on-3 powerplay, Sabres rookie Jack Eichel got Buffalo on the board just shortly after the first Coyotes penalty expired. Eichel accepted a feed from Rasmus Ristolainen, and ripped a one-time on the far-side of Domingue for his 14th goal of the season.

A little over six minutes later, Kyle Chipchura would take a hooking penalty to give the Sabres another powerplay opportunity. At the 1:24 mark of the powerplay, Eichel took the puck from the point towards the net and gave it off to Jamie McGinn in front of the net. McGinn would try a pass back to Ryan O’Reilly on the other end of side of the net, but it went off the leg of Michael Stone and into the back of the net.

The Sabres dominated the Coyotes in the second period, as they led Arizona 2-0 and out-shot the Coyotes in the period 15-9 heading into the third period.

In the third, Antoine Vermette would get the Coyotes on the board with a weak goal on Sabres goalie, Chad Johnson. However, that would be the only weak shot he would allow all game as Johnson would stop 26 of 27 shots he faced from the Coyotes.

After a late frenzy from the Coyotes, the Sabres would hold the fort and come away with he 2-1 win and sweep the season series with the Coyotes. After the final whistle, a mini-line brawl of sorts broke out which featured Zach Bogosian taking some matters into his own hands with Coyotes rookie forward, Anthony Duclair.

And even after all the feistiness after the game, this gem happened after the game was over between Eichel and fellow rookie, Sam Reinhart.

And now, the quick hits!

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    • Jack goes flexin’

Eichel’s incredible rookie season continues to get better as Eichel got the Sabres on the scoreboard first with a beautiful goal in the second period.

Eichel has established himself on the top powerplay unit on the point alongside Ristolainen. It has allowed Eichel to see the ice better, and he has been able to make more plays with the puck when he is at the point. Eichel did have some time playing the point on the powerplay when he was with Boston University last year, and was pretty darn good at it.

On Tuesday, Eichel was in the “Steven Stamkos / Alex Ovechkin Sweet Spot” on the ice, which is in the faceoff circle to the right side of the goaltender, and he one-timed his shot past Domingue for his 14th goal of the season.

With 14 goals this year, Eichel now moves into a tie for second place for goals among rookies with good buddy, Dylan Larkin. Eichel also now holds the lead among rookies for powerplay goals with five, and is just one point behind Larkin and two points behind Coyotes forward, Max Domi for second on the rookie scoring list.

With the recent play of Eichel, he could catch back up in the rookie scoring race. However, he will have to hope Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks can stop scoring with Patrick Kane, but that probably will not happen any time soon. Panarin has 16 goals and 43 points in 48 games this season.

    • What to do with Jamie McGinn?

In his first season with the Sabres, McGinn could be having one of the best years of his career.

On Monday night, McGinn added on to his impressive offensive onslaught this season with another goal on the powerplay. For McGinn, it was goal number-10 and his 21st point of the season.

His career-high for goals in a season was 19 in 2013-14, and his career-high for points came in the same season with 38. As of right now, McGinn is on pace to break both marks this season, which is the final year of his current contract.

With the NHL Trade Deadline approaching in about six weeks, the Sabres will have a tough decision to make with McGinn: do they trade McGinn and try to get a future asset or two, or make McGinn part of the future plans and re-sign him to an extension?

At this point, would McGinn garner a first round pick to a team that will look to make a deep playoff run this season? If Paul Gaustad could get the Sabres a first round pick, then why not Jamie McGinn?

However, McGinn has been playing extremely well on the top-two lines and the top-powerplay unit this season. Whether he is playing alongside Ryan O’Reilly and Reinhart or Jack Eichel and whoever, McGinn has been playing some of his best hockey.

If February 29 comes along, and the Sabres are offered a first round pick in the NHL Draft, make the deal with the impressive draft class ahead this season. If he does not gain that much attention, then make plans to keep McGinn and make him part of the future. Oh yeah, and McGinn is only 27-years old, which means he will hopefully have the best years ahead of him.

    • A 1A – 1B tandem in net?

With Robin Lehner returning to the Sabres net on Friday night against the Bruins, many would think we would see Lehner in net more often and Chad Johnson would be playing less of a role in the net. However, after an impressive two-game stretch for Johnson in goal, we could have ourselves a 1A – 1B situation in net.

Over the past two games, Johnson has stopped 59 of 61 shots on goal, and has helped the Sabres get two straight wins. Buffalo has also won four of its last five games after losing six-straight games.

With Lehner easing his way back into the net, Johnson could be looked upon to be a reliever when Lehner may need a break. It was a surprise to see Johnson get another start in net against the Coyotes on Monday, however, it seems like Lehner is expected to start Wednesday night in Colorado against the Avalanche.

    • Kane penalty shot a first in a while

Even though Kane missed on his penalty shot early in the second period, the attempt held some significance to the Sabres.

Kane’s penalty shot was the first penalty shot awarded to the Sabres since March 13, 2014 when Tyler Ennis was awarded a penalty shot against the Carolina Hurricanes. Ennis would end up beating Hurricanes goalie, Cam Ward to score on the attempt.

In the history of penalty shots awarded to the Sabres, Buffalo has had 57 penalty shot attempts with just 20 goals scored on those attempts.

For Kane, it was his first penalty shot attempt since March 12, 2014 when he was a member of the Winnipeg Jets. He was unsuccessful on his last attempt as well.

    • Coyotes coming down to Earth?

After a hot start to the season in a weaker Pacific Division, the Coyotes are starting to prove that they are young and not experienced enough to maybe make the playoffs this season.

While the Coyotes remain in the top three for the divisional race, the Coyotes have now lost its last three games after winning four straight games. Goalie, Mike Smith has been hurt since early December, and Arizona has had to rely on Domingue and Anders Lindback in net to help carry the team. While Domingue has played relatively well in net for the Coyotes, the team in front of him has faltered down the stretch.

In addition to the losing ways of the Coyotes, the rest of the division has played very well and are gaining ground on the Desert Dogs. The San Jose Sharks have been red-hot lately, the Vancouver Canucks have rebounded since falling out of the playoff race lately, and the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers are all beginning to climb back into the race for the playoffs.

The Coyotes need to continue to get some strong play from the rookies in Duclair and Domi, while getting the contributions from the veterans on the team like Shane Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Vermette. If the Coyotes continue to slump in the way they have been over the past three games, Arizona could be finding themselves out of the playoff hunt much sooner than expected.

Written by Brayton Wilson

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