GLENDALE, ARIZONA – Looking for goals with your leading scorer out of the lineup? Sometimes you don’t have to look any further than the blue line.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Andrej Meszaros scored a pair of goals – his second-straight two-goal game – to help lift the Sabres 4-1 over the Arizona Coyotes on Monday at Gila River Arena. Captain Brian Gionta and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen added empty-net goals to clinch the victory.
Tyler Ennis, who leads the team in goals and points, has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury and the new forward lines have been able to generate offense and scoring chances in his absence. With 36 shots against the Coyotes, they’ve put up at least 30 shots in three consecutive games.
It’s just that it’s been the defensemen who have been putting the puck in. Seven of the past nine goals scored by the Sabres have come from Ristolainen and Meszaros. Gionta is responsible for those other two goals.
Ristolainen has goals in three-straight games and four points over that stretch. Meszaros now has seven goals on the season.
“Just shooting the puck, I guess, and it’s going in. It’s one of those games, when you shoot it goes in,” Meszaros said. “Sometimes you’re trying too much and it’s not going in so it’s just lucky I guess.”
The Sabres fell behind early when a point shot by Connor Murphy found its way in behind Anders Lindback just 1:17 into the game.
The Sabres tied it on Meszaros’ first of the night on a shot from the right point 4:27 into the second period. Mikhail Grigorenko won a draw from the left faceoff circle and worked it back to Andre Benoit. Benoit then fed Meszaros, who beat Mike Smith with a hard, low shot.
Meszaros gave Buffalo the lead on a shot from the left point with 6:24 remaining in the second. Gionta added the first empty-net goal with 1:49 to play and then Ristolainen scored into the unguarded cage with 43 seconds remaining.
Buffalo also had to hang on and kill two penalties in the third period in order to earn the two points. In both instances, the Coyotes put on a lot of pressure. Gionta’s goal came on the second kill.
“We maybe bend, but don’t break,” forward Nicolas Deslauriers said. “I think our PK did a good job and we put all the credit on Mesz and those two goals – he’s hot right now – and on Lindy.”
The players were in good spirits afterward.
“We worked hard for it,” Gionta said. “Like we’ve said all along, there’s character in this room and everybody’s pushing hard ’til the end. There’s a lot of pride in here.”
Lindback made 28 saves to pick up his second win as a Sabre.
“To play the way he played tonight, it was like adding another defenseman who’s really good on the breakouts,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “He was in control. He was in the proper position. He looked like a true No. 1 NHL goaltender tonight.”
Only two weeks remain in the season and the players and coaches are going to do everything they can to make sure they end the year on a positive note.
By beating Arizona, the Sabres are four points out of 29th place – which is where Arizona currently sits – with a game in hand.
“You don’t want to be last,” Lindback said. “All these guys are here for a reason. They’re good hockey players and they’re winners. They want to win. That’s why you make it to this league. But it is what it is. We are where we are and we can only look one game ahead and try to get better.
Buffalo next plays on Wednesday when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center.
“Right now, there are six games left,” forward Nicolas Deslauriers said. “We’ve got one win [tonight]. We’re going to try to get six more wins.”