EDMONTON, AB - An early lead and physical start for the Oilers is spoiled by Cory Conacher’s two-goal night as the Buffalo Sabres down Edmonton, 3-1 at Rexall Place, winning just their eight road game of the season.
“I thought we were slow getting to some rebounds,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “I thought we had opportunities to score on our power plays. The finish that our guys usually have, especially our top guys, on most nights we don’t need a lot of chances to score two or three goals. We’re good when our chance is there and for some reason tonight when we did have the chance, we couldn’t put it in the net.
"But on numerous occasions, we were slow getting to that rebound when we’re usually right there and that was the most concerning thing for me. I think it came down to we let them hang around… when we could have put it away and that’s what happens when you let teams hang around. They were able to be opportunists on a couple of goals and we couldn’t get back into it.”
The Oilers and Sabres showed an animosity toward one another early in the game. The Oilers recalled tough guy Steve MacIntyre from the American Hockey League on Wednesday, in anticipation of this game and their matchup with Calgary on Saturday. However, he would not suit up against the Sabres.
Instead it was Luke Gazdic, as he’s done all season, who dropped the gloves and this time it was against Zenon Konopka. The tilt happened just 4:43 into the opening frame and set the tone for some more rowdiness to follow.
Later in the first, Cory Conacher shoved Oilers Ben Scrivens to the ice behind the net after the whistle. The Oilers goalie took offence to a hit on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins by the Sabres forward. Scrivens earned an unsportsmanlike conduct for his actions and the penalty was served by Tyler Pitlick at 13:40 of the opening frame.
After a slashing call, the Oilers earned a power play, Nugent-Hopkins had two great scoring opportunities backdoor but couldn’t handle the cross-crease passes.
Another Sabres penalty would give the Oilers what they needed to take the lead.
Taylor Hall broke open the scoring with 2:12 remaining in the first period with a one-timer from the face off dot on the power play. Justin Schultz set up the team-leading scorer with a pass from the slot and David Perron earned the second assist at 17:48. Hall’s goal was his 24th of the season and 65th point.
“We felt pretty good after the first,” Oilers forward Anton Lander said. “We didn’t play that good, but we were up 1-0. These kind of games, we’ve got to win…”
Buffalo would even things up at 9:16 of the second period.
Sabres forward John Scott would station his 6-foot-8, 259 pound frame in front of Scrivens, providing a brick wall of a screen on the power play. Jamie McBain’s point shot would be tipped in by Conacher for the equalizer.
The Sabres would come out of the gates in the third period ready to play.
Conacher, a waiver pick up by the Sabres at the trade deadline, scored his second tip-in goal of the game just over a minute into the third period. Cody Hodgson fired a shot from the half boards and Conacher got a piece of it. Torrey Mitchell earned the second assist and the Sabres gained the 2-1 lead.
“I don’t feel that we let off… They raised their game, we didn’t capitalize on our chances and they just played a simple game, a simple road game,” Oilers forward Ryan Smyth said. “Those type of things, you’ve just got to make sure that you’re executing the same way, properly, doing the simple things and we maybe got away from that for a little bit but I thought we had most of the procession in their zone.”
Drew Stafford put Buffalo on the board again when Scrivens made a save in a scramble for the puck but the Sabres forward put it in for the 3-1 lead. Tyler Ennis and Conacher earned the assists at 4:44 of the third period.
“The first period, there was a lot of power plays from us and we only got one from that,” Lander said. “The second period was also a lot of special teams and the last period was a lot of 5-on-5 basically. That’s something that you’re going to win or lose games, that’s in special teams. They come out and they played smart hockey, Buffalo. They played good, good road hockey. Overall, we’re not happy with this game. We wanted to beat these guys bad.”
With the win, the Sabres broke a seven-game losing streak while the Oilers watched their two-game win streak come to an end.