The Arizona Coyotes engaged the Buffalo Sabres in Tank Wars 2: The Wrath of Connor Monday night in Glendale. The Coyotes drew first blood with a 4-3 overtime victory last Thursday in upstate New York. Tonight's sequel had a much darker ending, as any good sequel should.
The Sabres beat the Coyotes 4-1 and handily outplayed Arizona from start to finish. The Coyotes had a chance to tie the game late thanks to a couple of Sabres' penalties, but the power play couldn't convert, and after two empty net goals it was all over. But let's not bury the lede here. The Coyotes lost a hockey game, but improved their chances at gaining a brighter future.
No one should actively root against the success of their team, but the Coyotes' loss here isn't all doom and gloom. The Sabres are now only four points in front of the Coyotes (or behind, it's confusing) for dead last in the league. Plus, Buffalo has a game in hand. The chances of Buffalo making up those four points aren't great, but five or six points would have made it academic. Why is getting the 30th spot so important this season?
The answer isn't just Connor McDavid. Sure, you have the best odds of winning the number one pick in the NHL Draft Lottery by finishing last, but the real reason being 30th matters this year is Jack Eichel. By being the worst team in the league, you are guaranteed at least the second overall pick in the draft. The Coyotes have no chance at Eichel if they don't win the lottery in their current position. But if Buffalo somehow finds a way to get another handful of points this season, the Yotes are guaranteed one of two generational talents.
That alone is reason enough to not feel bad about the outcome of tonight's game. Sure the Coyotes played a terrible game. They were outplayed by the Buffalo Sabres for crying out loud. But they have a better chance to draft a franchise changing player now than if they had won. Just goes to show there truly is a silver lining to every dark cloud.
- For the Buffalo perspective, check out Die By the Blade.
- Tonight's attendance: 13,612.
- Connor Murphy scored the lone Coyote goal. It was his fourth of the season and his first since January 27th against the Flyers.
- Andrej Meszaros scored the first two Buffalo goals. He had two in Buffalo's last game as well.
- The Sabres outshot Arizona 36-29. It was 31-18 after two periods. Buffalo also won the SAT battle 63/57.
- Arizona did win the face-off battle, 36-20. All four Coyote centers were at 50% or better.
- Mike Smith was once again stellar in a losing effort. He stopped 32 of 34 shots, including this doozy on Nikita Zadorov.
Our Three Stars of the Game
- Andrej Meszaros. Two goals on three shots with three hits and two blocks. He played horrible defense on the lone Coyote goal but redeemed himself throughout.
- Mike Smith. No duh.
- Rasmus Ristolainen. Played a very good positional game. Really, the entire Buffalo blueline corps did a great job of limiting Coyote chances and keeping them outside the slot.
The Road Ahead
The Coyotes don't play again until Friday, when they visit the San Jose Sharks. It's a game that could mean everything to San Jose or nothing.