Despite being short two skaters due to a flu bug, as well as losing Drew Stafford to a game misconduct in the second period, the Buffalo Sabres were able to battle their way to a 2-1 overtime victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday, Dec. 23 with some help from the equipment and jersey of Coyotes goalie Mike Smith.
While the first period ended without any score, the Coyotes took a 1-0 lead early in the second period with a goal by Martin Hanzal. Coyotes defenseman Connor Murphy took a slap shot from the right point that Hanzal deflected out of mid-air past Ryan Miller to get the Coyotes on the board only 19 seconds into the middle frame. The goal would be reviewed to see if Hanzal got the puck with a high stick, but the replay was inconclusive and the goal stood.
The Sabres would lose forward Drew Stafford to a game misconduct midway through the second period after he appeared to elbow Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the head. Ekman-Larsson was not injured and did not leave the game.
Stafford was also given a five minute major penalty on the play, but a penalty to Martin Hanzal a few minutes later negated a portion of the Coyotes extended power play that went unsuccessful in the end.
The game misconduct however shortened the Sabres dressed roster to 15 skaters out of a normal 18, with the team already short two men due to Ville Leino, Alex Sulzer, Linus Omark, and Marcus Foligno out with the flu, with Johan Larsson and Mark Pysyk the only call-ups from the Rochester Americans.
The Sabres were eventually able to even the score with a goal by Tyler Ennis with 5:59 remaining in regulation, just eight seconds after an unsuccessful power play had expired. Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons stole the puck right at the Coyotes blue line, skated in between Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone and forward Antoine Vermette into the offensive zone, and then passed it to Ennis as he broke free into the slot. Ennis then deked out Coyotes goalie Mike Smith and put it top shelf to tie the game at one a piece.
The remainder of regulation would remain scoreless, and overtime would be needed to settle the game.
In the end, it took a fluke play and a dose of luck to give the Sabres the victory with 1:13 remaining in overtime. Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk skated into the offensive zone and took a shot from the half-wall above the right faceoff circle that goalie Mike Smith made the save on, but kicked a rebound out to the bottom of the faceoff circle. Smith then dove to poke the puck with his stick as Pysyk also tried to poke it was his, while Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesa also made an attempt. At least one of the sticks got a piece of it and it hopped high into the air, eventually landing in Mike Smith’s jersey that was partly tucked into his pants. Not knowing where the puck was, Smith skated back into the net to prevent a rebound chance, not realizing it was caught in his equipment. After video review, it was determined that the puck crossed the goal line while caught in Smith’s equipment as he skated back into the net, giving the Sabres the overtime victory, with Mark Pysyk getting credited with the goal.
With the victory, the Sabres now move to 10-24-3 on the season after the first 37 games. With 55 games remaining, they still sit in last place in the NHL with 23 points in the standings.
Ryan Miller stopped 36 of 37 Coyotes shots in the victory, and is now 9-17-0 on the season with a .924 save percentage and a 2.76 goals against average.
The Sabres will now have the next few days off for the holidays before traveling to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.