Casey Mittelstadt heard the roar of the KeyBank Center crowd for a split-second before exhaustion forced him to skate to the bench for a break. Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo and Conor Sheary -- the Buffalo Sabres' second line -- had just controlled the puck in the offensive zone for over a minute during a shift in the first period.
"Right as they started cheering I hit a wall and couldn't hear anymore," Mittelstadt said with a chuckle following the Sabres' 3-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.
They heard that same roar several times throughout the game. So did the Sabres' third and fourth lines. After relying on the top line during a five-game winless streak, Buffalo used secondary scoring to earn its second consecutive win.
Mittelstadt's scored 48 seconds into the first period, and Evan Rodrigues, the Sabres' fourth-line left winger, added an insurance goal 6:28 into the third. Their efforts helped Buffalo improve to 19-9-4 and drew it within one point of second place in the Atlantic Division.
"That’s important," Sabres center Jack Eichel, who registered only one shot on goal, said of secondary scoring. "That’s big for us. Great to see Mittsy get on the board there, and Roddy gets a big goal for us in the third to extend the lead."
The bottom-nine forwards accounted for only two of Buffalo's 12 goals during the skid. They weren't generating enough scoring chances, either. Coach Phil Housley chose to attack the problem by shuffling his personnel.
Jason Pominville was moved to the second line last Saturday against Phladelphia, while Okposo dropped down to play with Rodrigues and Vladimir Sobotoka. Housley also tried Tage Thompson on the fourth line with Johan Larsson and Patrik Berglund.
That resulted in an embarrassing 6-2 loss, which included six unanswered goals.
Rather than breaking up his top line, Housley chose to make minor changes. Okposo was moved back with Mittelstadt and Sheary. Pominville is now playing right wing with Sobotka in the middle and Thompson on the left side. Zemgus Girgensons is back in the lineup and on the fourth line with Larsson.
Housley's patience paid off. Girgensons and Larsson both scored in a 4-3 overtime win over Los Angeles on Tuesday. Every line contributed against the Coyotes, beginning with Mittelstadt, Okposo and Sheary.
"They were unbelievable," Rodrigues said. "I don’t think the puck came out of the O zone when they were on the ice in the first. They were all over it. That set the tone of it, and we continued that in the second and third."
Sheary intercepted Arizona defenseman Alex Goligoski's pass in the neutral zone, skated toward the left faceoff circle and made a drop pass to Mittelstadt, whose wrist shot beat goalie Darcy Kuemper for a 1-0 lead.
It was Mittelstadt's first goal in eight games and his fifth this season. Okposo hasn't scored in 14 games and Sheary has been held scoreless in his last 11. The chances kept coming. Okposo hit the crossbar in the second period and had another chance in the third on Mittelstadt's backhanded centering pass from behind the net.
They accounted for five of the Sabres' 33 shots on goal, but their impact was best illustrated by that relentless shift in the first period that earned a raucous ovation. Their effort was a contagion, Rodrigues said.
"I thought we played well tonight," Mittelstadt said. "We were in their zone pretty much every shift, making plays and controlling the puck. That’s what we do best, I think. It was a great night tonight. It’s something to build off of, but we still had quite a few chances we didn’t bury."
Jeff Skinner's 22nd goal of the season, a wrist shot on a 2-on-1 pass from Eichel, gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead 6:54 into the first period. The Coyotes, now 13-15-2, answered 25 seconds later with Christian Fischer's wraparound goal to beat Carter Hutton, who made 25 saves in his return to the lineup.
While neither team scored in the second period, those bottom nine forwards wore down the Coyotes. Tage Thompson created a scoring chance with a spin move and backhanded shot. The fourth line was again outstanding.
Arizona kept the deficit at one until the third period when Girgensons knocked Goligoski off the puck in the neutral zone. It was collected by Rodrigues, who scored his second goal of the season when he skated past defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and fired a wrist shot past Kuemper.
Seventeen different players scored during the Sabres' 10-game win streak, during which they wore teams down with shifts like the one Mittelstadt's line had in the first period.
"I thought we played a really good, solid 60 minutes," Housley said. "Up and down our lineup everybody contributed."