BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Since dropping the interim title, Don Granato still hasn't lost. The Sabres beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 in a shutout on Saturday afternoon. Cody Eakin scored the lone regulation goal for Buffalo, while Tage Thompson and Arttu Ruotsalainen cashed in on their shootout attempts.
Dustin Tokarski made 20 saves, and two of three in the shootout. The Sabres are back at home on Tuesday to take on another Western conference opponent in the Vancouver Canucks.
Three observations from Saturday's game:
Who was the real winner?
If there's a team that, on paper, looked to be bound for as bleak of a season as the Sabres, it's the Coyotes. Their first goal was scored by Andrew Ladd, who was a salary dump from the New York Islanders over the summer. Instead, Arizona is actually using him.
One of the Coyotes goalies is Carter Hutton. They found themselves in a similar position to Buffalo a year ago, too. Neither of these teams look destined for much of anything this year, except maybe the best path for Shane Wright, the top prospect in the 2022 NHL Draft.
But Buffalo isn't playing like they want Wright. While the roster may lack big names to the same degree, the goal isn't the same. We were promised aggressive, exciting, hard-nosed, possession-style hockey. And that's exactly what we're getting.
Staying on brand
Let's face it: Playing from behind is something the Sabres spent plenty of time on last spring. But Thursday night's opener could have served to spoil them in a way. Buffalo never let its foot off the gas, even with a two-goal or three-goal lead. Head coach Don Granato teased that style of play. And it's really meant for games like this.
"If some of the last place teams in the league have a winning percentage around 500 or 600 when they have the lead early in the game, why would you spend so much time on defense?" Granato asked. "I don't want to be conservative. Lots of games and lots of winning depends on the ability to come back."
Buffalo won the possession battle for the hockey game; that's Granato's key to success and goal night in and night out. They out-shot the Coyotes 33 to 21. Even with a slow start in the first 20 minutes, Buffalo showed the propensity, speed, and play style to recover.
Conditioning pays off
That pace, excitement, and aggression that the Sabres build their play style around can be sustained for 60 minutes Today, we saw it pay off for even longer than that. Buffalo controlled the puck and the tempo throughout overtime.
While holding the puck, they took time to control changes, but you could see that the Coyotes had largely run out of gas. They were looking to hold for the shootout, while Buffalo continued to press the matter for the entire five minutes.
The Sabres ran into a goalie who was simply playing out of his mind in Arizona's Karel Vejmelka. Buffalo was constantly looking for the pretty pass to try to beat him, and just couldn't connect. But the seemingly limitless chances came from the Sabres' speed and conditioning. And those aren't going away anytime soon.