Despite battling back to tie the game in the third period, the Buffalo Sabres endured another loss Thursday night, this time to the Arizona Coyotes.
Captain Brian Gionta tied the game on the power play with 3:37 remaining in regulation, but the Coyotes capitalized on a power play by Sam Gagner in overtime to come away with a 4-3 victory at First Niagara Center.
Tyler Ennis had two points for Buffalo, including the team’s first goal, but left after the second period due to an upper-body injury. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said that Ennis will be evaluated further and hopes that the injury will only keep Buffalo’s leading scorer out for a short period of time.
Buffalo had a chance to win the game on a break by defenseman Zach Bogosian with about 1:21 remaining in regulation, but he was stonewalled by Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith. Smith ended up with 32 saves.
“It was a back-and-forth thing. We battled back and it’s a tough loss,” Gionta said.
Matt Hackett made 38 saves in goal for Buffalo. He stopped 40 in his last start on Saturday.
“It’s good for my confidence. I just want to show that I can play at this level,” he said. “My job’s to give my team a chance to win and I feel like I did a pretty good job of that tonight.”
With the overtime point, the Sabres sit in 30 th place in the League with 48 points and eight games remaining in the season. Arizona improved to 23-44-8 and is in 29th place with 54 points. Both teams have a good chance of picking first or second overall in the 2015 NHL Draft and that led to some surreal moments in the arena.
“I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans. I don’t even know if disappointed is the word,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “They score that first one, our fans our cheering. A late penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game. I don’t even know what to say.
“This is extremely frustrating for us. We don’t want to be here [at the bottom of the standings]. We understand where we are. We understand what this team’s doing, what the organization’s doing, the place we put ourselves in.
“But I’ve never been a part of something like that where the away team comes into a home building and they’re cheering for them.
“I respect our fans. I love our fans. I show up to work every day to do what I can for them and play hard for them and my teammates. Again, I’ve never seen that before. I don’t know what else to say.”
The Sabres, for the most part, have been able to avoid the distraction of lottery odds, but hearing cheers for the opposition was noticeable.
“It’s real tough. We’re doing a good job of keeping it out of the room and that’s why losses like this are so tough. We battle hard to get close and it’s tough to lose them,” Gionta said. “We play the game for each other in this room. We have great fans so I’m not going to say anything further.”
Nolan was pleased with the effort from most of the players on the team even though they had to go down to three lines as the game wore on. That left some of players, especially those who play roles on special teams, a little more taxed. Buffalo’s penalty kill ended up going 4-for-5 on the night, spending 7:43 shorthanded.
“I thought we gave what we had to give again. That’s all you can ask for,” Nolan said. “It’s no rocket science here what we’re going against and some of the guys are faced with really tough situations.”
The Coyotes got on the board first when Szwarz snapped a shot over Hackett’s shouder 7:55 into the game. It was Szwarz’s first goal of his career in what was only his second NHL game.
Ennis tied the game with 9:11 left in the first off a slick pass from Matt Moulson. On the rush, Moulson bolted down the right wing and hit Ennis with the puck in the front. Ennis pulled the puck to his backhand and tucked it home behind Smith, who had lunged out for a poke check.
Buffalo took the lead 8:37 into the second when, on the power play, Ristolainen fired a laser of a slap shot over Smith’s left shoulder from the point. However, the Coyotes quickly tied it up and then took the lead on goals by Ekman-Larsson and Moss. Both of those goals were the result of a lot of traffic in front of Hackett.
Gionta tied it, taking a turnover from Shane Doan in the slot and firing a slap shot in for his 10 th of the season. The overtime winner came when Gagner, along the goal line to Hackett’s right, threw the puck in front and it deflected in past Hackett.
Buffalo will head out for a two-game road trip this weekend. They’ll first play the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday and then go to Arizona for another game against the Coyotes. They’ll look to rebound on the road from this loss.