Last week’s matchup between the NHL’s two worst teams ended in unusual fashion when Buffalo Sabres fans cheered the Arizona Coyotes’ winning goal.
Now it’s time to see if Arizona fans will be similarly rooting for the visiting team Monday night since they haven’t had much to cheer about lately.
These organizations have their eyes on positioning themselves in the draft for star prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, and the Coyotes have won once in their last 17 home games as they get ready to face the Sabres.
Buffalo (20-47-8) has 48 points and Arizona has 54 as they vie for draft position that could be critical to their futures. Consensus top picks McDavid and Eichel are viewed as potential franchise cornerstones, and Sabres fans have been clear they want to finish with the worst record to improve their chances of picking first.
That was evident Thursday in the Coyotes’ 4-3 overtime road win when Sam Gagner’s winning goal was cheered by numerous Buffalo fans.
”I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans,” Sabres defenseman Mike Weber said. ”I don’t even know if disappointed is the word.
”They scored the first one, our fans are cheering. Late penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game. I don’t even know what to say. It’s extremely frustrating for us.”
How the response will be Monday is uncertain. While Buffalo ranks in the top half of the NHL in average home attendance, Arizona (23-45-8) is third-worst in the league.
The Coyotes are 1-14-2 in their last 17 home games, including 0-6-1 in the last seven. They’ve also lost their last four to Buffalo in Arizona and return home after capping a 2-1-0 trip with Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
Arizona’s Tye McGinn broke a scoreless tie early in the third period but the Coyotes were eventually overpowered as they were outshot 46-24.
”We hung around, but unfortunately we couldn’t do enough to get the win,” coach Dave Tippett said.
Buffalo fell to 0-4-1 in its last five games with Saturday’s 5-3 defeat at Colorado. Andrej Meszaros scored twice in the third period for the Sabres, who fell behind by four goals after two and finished with a 38-22 edge in shots on goal including 18-7 in the third.
”We played well in the last 20 minutes,” forward Marcus Foligno said. ”It would have been a different game if we had played that way for all 60 minutes.”
Tyler Ennis, who leads the Sabres with 42 points, sat out after suffering an upper body injury last week against the Coyotes. He is reportedly feeling better and could return Monday.
Coach Ted Nolan started winless Matt Hackett on Thursday, and Hackett replaced Anders Lindback to start the second period Saturday.
"I just felt the way the game was going, we had no life, we had no jump, there was nothing going on," Nolan said. "Sometimes when you change the goaltender, it changes things a little bit."
The beleaguered Mike Smith has started Arizona’s last five games, and he’s 4-0-1 with a 1.77 goals-against average in his last five starts versus Buffalo. Smith’s 38 regulation defeats are the most in the NHL since Marc Denis had 41 for Columbus in 2002-03.