The victories have been few for the Buffalo Sabres and even less than that for the host Arizona Coyotes, but there still is reason for optimism when the cellar-dwelling clubs meet at Gila River Arena on Thursday. Promising rookie Clayton Keller captured the NHL’s first rookie of the month honors after finishing October with a seven-game point streak (six goals, five assists) for Arizona.
Keller, who was the seventh overall pick of the 2016 draft, collected a goal and an assist in a 5-3 loss to Detroit on Tuesday to increase his rookie-leading totals in tallies (nine) and points (15). The 19-year-old became the first Coyotes/Jets rookie to post nine goals in one calendar month since Teemu Selanne (20) in March 1993, as well as 15 points in one month since the “Finnish Flash” had 27 (20 goals, seven assists) and Keith Tkachuk (15, six goals, nine assists) - also in March of 1993. Buffalo has answered an 0-4-1 start to the season with a 3-3-1 stretch, although coach Phil Housley is keeping everything in check. “We can’t look ahead. ... We have to take little steps,” Housley told reporters Wednesday. “First of all, we’ve got to win a game (Thursday). That’s the first and foremost thing, beating an Arizona team that’s pretty desperate.”
TV: 10 p.m. ET, MSG Buffalo, FSN Arizona
ABOUT THE SABRES (3-7-2): Jason Pominville matched Evander Kane with his team high-tying sixth goal in a 3-2 setback to San Jose on Saturday, while the latter had an assist to pull even with the former and Jack Eichel with a club-best 12 points. “I think we’ve got some chances, I just think we need to capitalize better on them, myself included,” Eichel told reporters. “I’d like to see us be more consistent on a shift-to-shift basis of getting that sustained pressure in the offensive zone, continuing to successfully make our plays that we’re trying to make.” Kyle Okposo has weathered the storm after a disastrous start to the season, answering a minus-7 rating over a scoreless stretch of five games to notch two assists over his next five.
ABOUT THE COYOTES (1-11-1): Arizona hasn’t given its fans much to cheer with an 0-4-1 mark at home, and perhaps goalie Antti Raanta could provide a spark if he’s ready to return from multiple lower-body injuries. The Coyotes’ instability in net and mental lapses at other positions have routinely led to opponents having their way with the club, with Arizona allowing a staggering 56 goals in 13 games. “You have to play the full 60 minutes,” coach Rick Tocchet told reporters. “The problem with us is if we make a mistake, it’s egregious, and it’s in our net. It’s not a small mistake, it’s a big mistake, and we’ve got to wipe those away.”
1. Buffalo D Justin Falk (lower-body), who practiced with the team on Tuesday, is considered day-to-day and could make his season debut versus Arizona.
2. Coyotes C Max Domi has a team-leading eight assists and is one point shy of 100 for his career.
3. The Sabres reached out to Rochester of the American Hockey League and recalled F Nicholas Baptiste, who is tied for the team lead with three goals and even for third on the club with five points.
PREDICTION: Coyotes 4, Sabres 3