VANCOUVER — Cory Conacher had not scored a goal in six games since joining the Buffalo Sabres, but his drought was worse than that. Conacher hadn’t scored in 2014, dating back to a goal Dec. 28 for the Ottawa Senators against Boston. That was 27 games ago.
Coach Ted Nolan pulled him off the top line for Thursday’s game in Edmonton, moving him with Cody Hodgson and Torrey Mitchell. Conacher started the game pretty feisty, running over Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and then getting into a pushing match with Ben Scrivens when the Edmonton goaltender came to his teammate’s defense.
Conacher and Scrivens both got penalties but Conacher’s helmet got damaged in the brief scrum so he briefly sat in the penalty box without one. That’s against the rules, so one had to be brought for him.
Then it happened. A magic helmet? Sure seems that way.
Referee Rob Martell delivered Conacher a helmet from the bench belonging to Sabres enforcer John Scott. With the TSN cameras focusing on him, the 5-foot-8 Conacher donned the huge headgear of the 6-foot-7 Scott, let out a big laugh as the helmet just about covered his eyes and the image has become a viral sensation.
Must have been some crazy powers in there because Conacher went on to score his first two goals as a Sabre, powering Buffalo’s 3-1 win that snapped an ugly seven-game losing streak.
“If you know John Scott, he’s that kind of guy,” Conacher said after the game. “He’s a character guy. I wasn’t surprised he was the one to give me his helmet. I’m sure I’ll get a couple pictures and tweets of me with that picture of it three sizes too big.
“John Scott’s a character. I’m just lucky I didn’t have to play a shift in it.”
Scott is one of the biggest cutups in the Sabres’ dressing room so it was no surprise to anyone around he volunteered his helmet. The image was named the Worst Play of the Day by TSN in Canada and has been featured on Yahoo and SB Nation, among notable websites.
“They needed a helmet and I wasn’t going to play so I just gave him mine,” said Scott, who certainly wasn’t going to see the ice while the teams were skating four on four.
Scott had a good laugh when told the gig had gone viral.
“Is it really? Well, he looked like a little kid in my helmet,” Scott said. “That was funny stuff.”
Aside from that sight-gag, there was nothing funny about the 24-year-old Conacher’s best game as a Sabre. The former Canisius College star showed slick hands with a pair of tip-ins on shots by Jamie McBain and Hodgson.
“It’s been great coming here and playing the minutes I play,” said Conacher, who was waived by Ottawa earlier this month. “It’s been a lot of fun. The coaches show confidence in me and I just have to do the little things. As the games have gone on, I’ve got that confidence to hold on to the puck a little more, put more pucks on net. Maybe this is the game I needed to let the floodgates open a little bit.”
As Nolan said, Conacher had lots of help from his linemates and from Scott on his power-play goal. It was Scott who screened Scrivens on the McBain shot, allowing Conacher’s tip from the top of the circle to whizz past the goalie.
“I don’t think many goalies will be able to stop a puck with him in front of the net,” Conacher said. “He’s a big man and you’ve got to give a lot of credit to him for that goal, and McBain made a nice play on net and luckily I got a stick on it.”
“We’ve worked on that in practice,” said Scott, who got the go-ahead from Nolan to head to the net after other Buffalo forwards weren’t doing it in earlier situations. “The goalies tell me which way to go and how to use my body to my advantage so it wasn’t completely foreign. I tried to look at the goalie’s eyes. He was looking one way and the puck went the other way.”
Conacher already had a 30-game goal drought with Ottawa that he ended on Dec. 23 against Pittsburgh. When he fell into a second rut, the Senators gave up on him. With Marcus Foligno in Conacher’s spot with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, the Sabres hope they can count on two offensive lines when they play the Vancouver Canucks here Sunday night.
“Mitchell is a fast player like myself and he’s got some grit like myself. ... Maybe I fit better with those two guys tonight,” Conacher said. “It was nice. It’s definitely refreshing. I already had the monkey off my back one time this year and it feels like it came off again tonight.”
Said Nolan: “They were buzzing all over the place making some plays.”
The Sabres took a CBA-mandated day off Friday and will practice today at Rogers Arena. The game against the Canucks is a 5 p.m. local start on Sunday, meaning it goes at 8 p.m. in Buffalo.