Sabres, Coyotes not used to winning in October
The teams traditionally get off to rough starts and so either the Sabres or the Coyotes will welcome getting an infrequent October victory when they play an interconference game Saturday night at Gila River Arena.
The Sabres (2-2) are an NHL-worst 16-39-6 in October since the 2013-14 season, and so winning successive games against the New York Rangers and Vegas Golden Knights after an opening-night loss to the Boston Bruins was uplifting for a team that had a league-low 25 wins last season.
But the Sabres reverted to their usual October form on Thursday, losing 6-1 to the Colorado Avalanche at KeyBank Center in a disappointing effort given it was the sendoff to a five-game road trip.
“They got on us (3-0 in the first period) and we probably weren’t ready to play and that’s on us,” center Jack Eichel said. “They came out hard and I thought they outworked us for the first bit there. We put ourselves behind the eight-ball.”
The Coyotes (1-2) know what that’s like. They started 0-10-1 last season, effectively putting them out of the playoff race before Halloween, and they are 4-18-1 in October in the past three seasons.
But Coyotes have had dominating stretches in all three games this season, outshooting their opponents 110-70, and they were rewarded Wednesday with a 3-2 shootout road win over the Anaheim Ducks. Dylan Strome scored the team’s first goal of the season, on a power play, and goalie Antti Raanta made 23 saves and stopped all three Ducks shooters in the shootout.
Before winning, the Coyotes had been shut out in three consecutive games dating to the final game of last season.
“We stuck with it, whether we were up or tied, whether the situation was killing penalties or (skating) three-on-three,” forward Christian Fischer said Friday. “We did a really good job of sticking with it. … We got the power play going, a little chemistry with our lines, so now it’s a matter of bearing down on our chances and scoring some goals, because we know Rantz (Raanta) is going to stop them for us.”
There’s a question who’ll be stopping shots Saturday for the Sabres.
Goaltender Carter Hutton started the first four games but gave up six goals on 30 shots against the Avalanche. Coach Phil Housley said he might give backup Linus Ullmark his first start of the season against Arizona, but might wait until later in the trip.
Housley is making one change for certain, moving left winger Jeff Skinner to a line with rookie center Casey Mittelstadt and right winger Kyle Okposo. Skinner had been playing with Okposo and center Patrik Berglund, but the former Carolina Hurricanes forward is scoreless in his first four games with the Sabres.
“I really like the way he (Skinner is) working, his forechecking. He steals pucks and he strips pucks, the way he’s coming back into our zone,” Housley said. “There’s just nothing evolving from that point. … (I’m) just trying to create some chemistry. He’s been held off the board as far as goals go, so I’m trying to get him going.”
Similarly, Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet is shifting the team’s top scorer last season, Clayton Keller, back to right wing on a line with left winger Richard Panik and center Derek Stepan — the team’s most effective line late last season.
Keller began the season playing center because of center Alex Galchenyuk’s lower-body injury, which remains week to week, but doesn’t have a goal in three games. Keller had 23 goals and 65 points in 2017-18.
“We’re experimenting with different things,” Tocchet said. “When you get injuries at center, it takes a hit on your depth. … But that line was good for us last year. Maybe this will help kick-start Kells (Keller) and help Steph (Stephan) a little bit, too.”
The Coyotes will play their only home game in a span of six games. They begin a four-game road trip Tuesday at Minnesota.