By Dave Vest
BUFFALO – Backup goalie Jason LaBarbera made 37 saves in his debut with the Coyotes, but his solid performance was not enough as the Buffalo Sabres rallied late to beat Phoenix, 2-1, at HSBC Arena on Thursday night.
The defeat was the first for the Coyotes after impressive road victories at Los Angeles and Pittsburgh to start the season.
Neither team scored in the first two periods as LaBarbera and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller made 30 and 18 saves, respectively. Several of LaBarbera’s stops were highlight-reel material.
Tied 0-0, Buffalo center Paul Gaustad was called for slashing at 1:55 of the third period. The Coyotes wasted little time capitalizing on the call as Adrian Aucoin unloaded a shot from the point that center Matthew Lombardi tipped past Miller at 2:37.
The Sabres knotted the score less than two minutes later when left wing Clarke MacArthur slickly backhanded the puck past LaBarbera at 4:14.
After that goal, the Coyotes had to kill three penalties. They were able to wipe out the first two – both called on Scottie Upshall concurrently at 6:23 – but Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek scored the game-winning goal with 3:53 left in the third period.
Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett was not pleased with his team’s lack of discipline during crunch time.
“We’re in a game, our goaltender is giving us a chance to win at 0-0 on the road in a back-to-back game and we go out and take six minutes in penalties. That’s disgusting,” Tippett said. “That’s just disgusting. That’s giving games away… You can’t give points away in this league.”
With the score tied 1-1 and Coyotes defenseman Jim Vandermeer in the penalty box for cross-checking, Vanek positioned himself nicely in the low slot and then one-timed a nifty pass from MacArthur past LaBarbera at 16:07 of the third period.
Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta delivered a brutal check on Coyotes forward Petr Prucha in the first minute of the second period. Coyotes center Martin Hanzal immediately grabbed Kaleta, a Buffalo native, and they swapped punches as Prucha remained on the ice along the boards in the Phoenix zone. Prucha eventually got up, skated to the bench and went to the dressing room. Fearing he may have suffered a concussion, the Coyotes kept Prucha out for the rest of the game. After the game, Prucha said he did not feel any concussion-like symptoms.
Kaleta and Hanzal were sent to the penalty box for fighting. Hanzal also received two minutes for roughing, two minutes for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct.
Buffalo's Henrik Tallinder was called for tripping Upshall at 8:42 of the second period to set up a five-on-three Phoenix power play for 28 seconds. The Coyotes failed to score with the two-man advantage and the ensuing five-on-four advantage.
With 1:45 left in the second period, the puck ended up in the Phoenix net after numerous players collided in front of LaBarbera. The goal was disallowed because a whistle had blown before the puck crossed the goal line.
Before MacArthur’s goal, the Coyotes had kept three opponents scoreless for 112 minutes and 18 seconds. The previous goal allowed by Phoenix came in the third period of its 6-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 3.
The Coyotes won 63 percent of the 54 faceoffs. Lombardi and Robert Lang led the way by taking 9 of 13 draws each.
• The Coyotes scratched forwards Paul Bissonnette and Francis Lessard, and defenseman Kurt Sauer. Lessard is serving a suspension. Buffalo’s scratches were forward Daniel Paille, and defensemen Nathan Paetsch and Toni Lydma
“I think the first two periods were probably some of the best two periods I think I've played in this league.”
“It’s definitely a letdown. … We took a little bit of a step back. Hopefully, we can learn from it.”
“We stuck to our systems, stuck to our game and got rewarded in the end.”