Matt Ellis scored his first goal of the season for the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, and it turned out to be the game winner, as they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs by a final score of 4-3.
Tanks to a bad line change and some sloppy defending on Toronto’s part, the 33-year-old Ellis was able to take a pass, walk in alone and make a move to the backhand, sliding the puck past a sprawled out Jonathan Bernier.
The Sabres are now only two points back of the Arizona Coyotes for 29th in the NHL’s overall standings, as the race in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, um, heats up?
All the latest from the blue paint…
San Jose looking forward?
All but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, San Jose will sit veteran — and soon-to-be UFA — Antti Neimi for the third straight game tonight, and once again start Alex Stalock in goal when it takes on the Avs.
Stalock, who’s started three straight only one other time this year, inherited the net after Niemi fell ill two games ago and has performed reasonably well, helping the Sharks gain three of a possible four points by stopping 47 of his last 51 shots faced.
It’ll be interesting to see how much the Sharks play the 27-year-old over their final six games of the regular season. Stalock is under contract for next year and while there are doubt he can be a full-time starter in the NHL, he will (presumably) be with the organization in 2015-16 whereas it’s unlikely Niemi will be back.
For Colorado, Reto Berra gets the nod.
Leafs at Sabres: Jonathan Bernier vs. Anders Lindback
Flyers at Pens: Steve Mason vs. Marc-Andre Fleury
Oilers at Ducks: Ben Scrivens vs. Frederik Andersen
The battle to battle ineffectively enough to end the season with the best draft odds will likely remain uncomfortable for fans of the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres, but at least those extra-awkward games between the two teams are over now.
Of course, it’s the clearest loss for those who enjoy the strange dissonance of it all. The Sabres ended up winning this round 4-1, which essentially means good news for the Coyotes.
It was a closer game than that score indicates, mind you, as Buffalo inflated the difference with two empty-net goals.
With this game out of the way, the Buffalo Sabres move to 50 standings points and six games remaining while the Coyotes stay at 54 points with five games left. The Edmonton Oilers are in third place, yet with 59 points and six games on the docket, they seem unlikely to sink any lower.
The Coyotes and Sabres are likely going toe-to-toe for the last spot, which made for a really odd week for observers. Now they can go back to a rather odd form of scoreboard watching, which seems a little more comfortable for most of us.
This serves as a decent confidence-booster for two embattled goalies in Mike Smith and Anders Lindback, even if the improvements may be merely incremental.
(One would be hard pressed to find a stranger month than what Smith has experienced in March, by the way. He’s put up more-or-less elite individual stats, yet he’s languished with a 3-9-0 record this month. Weird.)
It was a nice game for Andrej Meszaros (two goals) and Rasmus Ristolainen, who hit eight goals in 2014-15 with an empty-netter. Sabres fans might groan at this result, but the players seem happy with a victory, at least: