Not many teams have managed to make the Buffalo Sabres look good this season, but the Edmonton Oilers found a way to do it on Thursday.
Cory Conacher had two goals and an assist as the Sabres snapped a lengthy seven-game losing skid, emerging with a 3-1 victory over the Oilers in a battle between the teams with the worst records in the NHL.
Drew Stafford also scored for the Sabres (20-42-8) who had been outscored 21-6 in their previous seven losses.
“It was huge,” Stafford said. “The way that this year has gone and the challenges we have gone through, we will take any win at this point, regardless of who it is against. That was one of our more complete efforts.
“We had some discipline issues, but had a great PK. We also had more than one goal, which is big. Getting a 3-1 lead, I’m not sure I can remember the last time we had a comfortable lead like that where we could lock in our system and take over the game.”
Sabres head coach Ted Nolan said his team earned the two points on the night as they ran their road record to just 8-22-3.
“It is good to finally play a half decent game,” he said. “When you lose, you get what you deserve, and we have been getting what we deserved. We weren’t playing very well, but tonight we got what we deserved.”
Conacher scored his first goal as a Sabre since being claimed on waivers from Ottawa at the trade deadline, and his first goal overall since Dec. 28.
“It was refreshing,” he said. “I’ve already had to get the monkey off my back once before this year, and it feels like it came off again tonight. Maybe this was the game I needed to open the floodgates a bit. The most important part was getting the win, though.
Taylor Hall responded for the Oilers (25-37-9) who saw a two-game winning streak end.
The Oilers, now 10-5-3 in their last 18 games, are in second-last behind the Sabres.
“You look at some games on the schedule and you think, oh, it’s going to be an easy night, but I’ve learned in this league that anything can happen,” Hall said. “Whether you’re playing the St Louis Blues or Buffalo, you have to come in with the same mind-set.
“It doesn’t matter what place they’re in or anything, every game is hard and just because we lost to the team behind us doesn’t mean we’re going to come to the rink and sulk tomorrow. As long as the work ethic is there and the battle and the compete ... as long as we have that, we’re proud.”
Oilers captain Andrew Ference said his team just didn’t seem to have that second effort that has seen them come back in games of late.
“We’ve been able to take the tempo of game and take control of the third period recently and we just didn’t do that tonight,” he said. “Their second goal was just putting the puck to the net and it didn’t seem as though we responded as well as we’ve had in the last two weeks.
“We just lacked that extra couple of notches on the dial tonight.”
Little happened for the bulk of the first period, save for a spirited scrap between Edmonton’s Luke Gazdic and Buffalo’s Zenon Konopka.
Edmonton had numerous chances on the power play late in the first, including posts hit by Justin Schultz and Hall, before the two connected for a man-advantage goal on Buffalo goalie Matt Hacket, who was making his first start of the season for the Sabres.
Schultz made a quick pass to Hall in the centre of the right faceoff circle and he blew a one-timer past Hacket with two minutes left in the first period for his 24th goal of the season.
Hacket was recently called up from Rochester of the AHL with normal goalies Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth out with injuries.
The Sabres tied the game with a power-play goal of their own just before the midway point of the second period as Conacher was able to tip a Jamie McBain point shot past Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens.
Buffalo took a 2-1 lead 1:09 into the third period as a soft Schultz clearing attempt was intercepted by Torrey Mitchell and his shot on net was once again tipped past Scrivens by Conacher for his second of the game and sixth of the season.
The Sabres took a two-goal lead five minutes into the third as Scrivens was down and out on a rebound that came back to Stafford, who scored his fifth goal in the last seven games.
Hacket made 35 saves for the victory in the Buffalo net.
The Oilers play the third game of a six-game homestand on Saturday against the Calgary Flames. The Sabres play the third game of a five-game road trip on Sunday in Vancouver.
Notes: It was the second of a pair of meetings between the Oilers and Sabres this season. Edmonton won the first game 3-2 on Feb. 3a In their seven losses before facing the Oilers, only two Sabres players recorded goals - Drew Stafford (four goals) and Tyler Ennis (two goals)a Hacket became the fourth goalie used by Buffalo in the last four gamesa Both teams were fairly banged up for the game. Notable absences for the Oilers included forwards Jordan Eberle (knee) and Nail Yakupov (ankle), while the Sabres were without defencemen Tyler Myers (elbow) and Alexander Sulzer (upper body) and forwards Chris Stewart (ankle) and Zemgus Girgensons (lower body).