GLENDALE, Ariz. — A year ago, the Sabres and Coyotes dismantled their rosters and began rebuilding, going through horrible seasons for a chance at one of two projected stars in the NHL draft.
Jack Eichel ended up in Buffalo, not Arizona, and he further frustrated the Coyotes on Monday night.
Eichel had a goal and an assist, and Chad Johnson made 26 saves in the Sabres’ 2-1 victory.
“It was in the back of your mind,” Eichel said when asked if he thought he might end up in Arizona. “I knew the whole situation would take care of itself. … And I was fortunate enough to go to Buffalo.”
“We can win,” Eichel said. “We know that.”
Antoine Vermette‘s goal at 8:04 of the third period ended a scoreless drought of more than six periods for Arizona in its third straight loss. Louis Domingue stopped 26 shots in his first regulation defeat in 11 starts since taking over for injured Mike Smith.
Johnson shined by making 11 saves in the first period when the Coyotes failed to score despite being on the power play for 6 minutes. Arizona went 0 for 5 with the man advantage.
“We’re a little bit off on our shooting. A lot of shots being blocked,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “The second half (of the season), it gets tighter.”
It was a rough night for the Coyotes, beaten by a player they coveted a year ago.
The Sabres and Coyotes were the NHL’s two worst teams last season, looking ahead to a draft that featured Connor McDavid and Eichel.
Buffalo finished with the worst record, guaranteeing a top-2 pick. When Edmonton won the draft lottery, the Coyotes fell to the third selection and Eichel went to the Sabres.
Playing his first NHL game in the desert, the 19-year-old Eichel scored his 14th goal on a one-timer off a feed from Ristolainen just as a 5-on-3 power play expired at 10:07 of the second period.
The Sabres took advantage of another Coyotes penalty to go ahead 2-0 when McGinn slipped Eichel’s rebound off Coyotes defenceman Michael Stone‘s shin pad and in late in the second for his 10th goal.
The Coyotes ended a scoreless streak that lasted more than six periods when Vermette’s shot slowly trickled through Johnson’s legs at 8:04 of the third.
After stopping 33 shots in Saturday’s win over NHL-leading Washington, Johnson got the start even with No. 1 goalie Robin Lehner back from an ankle injury.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said he planned to start each goalie once on the trip, which ends Wednesday in Colorado, but acknowledged the order changed after Johnson’s strong showing.
Johnson kept Buffalo in it early, making 11 saves in a bloody first period for Arizona.
Jake McCabe drew a double-minor for a high stick that cut Jordan Martinook. Arizona’s Zbynek Michalek left a pool of blood earlier after taking a puck to his upper lip. He returned before the end of the first.
“His mouth’s a mess, but he’s OK,” Tippett said.
The game ended with a flurry of fights in Buffalo’s sixth straight victory in Arizona. Five players were penalized after the final horn, with the Sabres’ Zach Bogosian receiving a game misconduct.
“A little bit of old-school hockey,” Bylsma said. “Guys coming together and sticking together. It was good to see.”
NOTES: The Coyotes’ scoreless streak lasted 131:22. … Domingue fell to 7-1-3 as a starter. … Sabres players could bring their mother or father on the trip. McGinn switched it up and brought his grandfather. … Sabres D Josh Gorges missed his second straight game with an injury, but Bylsma said Gorges has shown “lots of improvement.” … The Coyotes sent forward Steve Downie to Springfield (AHL) after he cleared waivers. … Sabres captain Brian Gionta celebrated his 37th birthday by playing in his 888th career game.