GLENDALE, Ariz. - The Sabres have had plenty to talk about lately. Their power play is hot. Their penalty killers are hotter. Chad Johnson's goaltending has been impressive. All those things shined Monday night as Buffalo won for the fourth time in five games.
But as the players milled around the Gila River Arena dressing room following a 2-1 victory over Arizona, the chatter was about punches, togetherness and literally fighting to the end.
As the horn blew to signal the Sabres' win, the players on the ice blew their stacks. Gloves, sticks and helmets littered the ice as the 11 skaters teed off. One of the main events featured the Sabres' Rasmus Ristolainen and the Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson - two of the most offensively gifted young defensemen in the NHL - throwing punches at each other. Shane Doan jumped into the fight, getting the action even more intense.
"We battle, and sometimes those things happen," Ristolainen said. "I love it. It tells that we're a close team. Everyone sticks up for each other, and we never take any back steps."
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Indeed, most of the steps lately are going forward.
"We know we have a lot of good players in here," said center Jack Eichel, who had a goal and assist. "We know we're capable. I think the biggest thing is just going out there and doing it, executing, playing our game and making it hard on the other team. I think the last few games we've been doing it, and that's why we've been successful.
"It's great to see our team rewarded by playing the right way."
With goal scoring down and close games all the rage, there's little room for error when it comes to special teams. It's why the Sabres practice their power play nearly every day, with the penalty killers getting a workout, too.
The practice is paying off. The special-teams units won the game for Buffalo. The power play went 2 for 3 and the penalty killers were 5 for 5.
The penalty killers set the tone after Jake McCabe earned a double minor for high-sticking with just 4:27 off the clock. Buffalo killed off those four minutes and the six that followed. The Sabres' short-handed unit is 15 for 16 in the last seven games.
"We have an eight-second rule where we're just trying to all-out pressure," said defenseman Mike Weber, who skated a game-high 6:17 of short-handed time. "If they have three guys in the corner, we're going with three guys. It's a little bit of a swarm mentality, and we've been able to get a lot of clears down the ice."
When the Sabres didn't clear it, Johnson was there. He stopped 26 shots, including all 13 that Arizona took during its power plays.
"The guys again did a good job in front of me and we were a cohesive unit there on the PK," Johnson said. "You can kind of see now when it all comes together what it looks like. It was a fun game to be a part of."
Johnson had a ringside seat for the postgame scrum, which took place in the corner of Buffalo's zone after Arizona failed to get the tying goal.
"We fought right to the very end," Johnson said. "Even when it was over, we were still fighting. It was a big win for us."
It was a team-building win. Even coach Dan Bylsma joined in the dressing room discussions, asking Ristolainen about his pugilism. The Sabres' next fight is Wednesday in Colorado.
"Every once in a while it's nice to have old-school hockey in the game," Weber said. "Those are the ones where you kick yourself that you're not on the ice, but it's fun. We'll have some laughs about it tonight, then it's get our minds right and get ready to finish this road trip off."