EDMONTON — The fourth line answered the bell for the Edmonton Oilers in a showdown of the league’s two worst clubs on Thursday.
Anton Lander and Matt Fraser each had a goal and two assists as the Oilers beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2.
Oscar Klefbom also scored for the Oilers (13-27-9), who have won three of their last four and now sit four points ahead of last-place Buffalo. The Oilers are now 6-5-2 since interim head coach Todd Nelson took over as full-time head coach.
Nelson, who has spent plenty of time watching Lander’s progress in the American Hockey League, is thrilled to see him start to shine at the NHL level.
“Thank goodness Anton Lander had the game that he did tonight. He was exceptional, by far the best player on the ice,” Nelson said. “I think he feels really comfortable and more confident when he looks behind and sees me. I’ve been working with him every year since he came over from Europe, so I think that helps. He’s really improved his game. He has earned the opportunity. I thought he was outstanding tonight.”
Lander shrugged off his personal best three-point performance.
“I think we played all right, we can still get better,” he said.
“You don’t have to play great all the time, but if you get a win that’s the most important thing. It’s nice to get wins here the last couple of games. It’s a good thing we have going on now, we have to keep it going.”
Tyler Myers and Rasmus Ristolainen replied for the Sabres (14-31-3), who have lost a franchise-worst 13 games in a row and only have one win in their last 18.
“The defence were involved, but it wasn’t a 60-minute effort for all of us,” said Sabres centre Torrey Mitchell. “We play the first two periods well or we score the first goal, and get off to good starts and we just can’t build on it right now.”
It is clear the frustration level is running very high for the Sabres at the moment.
“We had our chances,” said Buffalo head coach Ted Nolan.
“With this team we need everyone, we can’t afford two or three guys not playing well or not giving what they have to give. It seems like the same ones over and over again, but we only have 20 players, who else are you going to put in?”
“I think we need to stay positive and just keep approaching every game like we’re going to win the game,” added goalie Jhonas Enroth. “We can’t go into every game thinking we’re going to lose the game. We have to stay positive and still believe that we can win games.”
The Sabres started the scoring just 2:22 into the first period as Mitchell won a battle behind the net and dished the puck out in front to Myers, who slipped a shot under the arm of Ben Scrivens— on a play the Oilers goalie would likely want to have a second chance at. It was Myers’ second goal of the season.
Edmonton tied the game 1-1 with seven-and-a-half minutes left in the opening frame when Lander fed a puck from behind the goal line to Fraser, who beat Sabres starter Enroth with a slap shot for his sixth of the year.
The Oilers surged ahead with five minutes to play in the first as Lander sent a backhand pass to Klefbom at the top of the circle and the young defenceman blasted his first goal of the season into the Sabres’ net.
Scrivens was forced to make a couple timely kick saves in an otherwise uneventful and scoreless second period.
Edmonton outshot Buffalo 24-16 through 40 minutes.
The Oilers were down a defenceman six minutes into the third period as Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons directed Nikita Nikitin into the boards and the Edmonton blue-liner left the game clutching his shoulder.
Edmonton took a 3-1 lead eight minutes into the third as a turnover allowed a two-man breakaway with Teddy Purcell feeding Lander for his first goal in 65 games- also giving him his first three-point game of his career. Fraser picked up an assist on the play, also giving him three points in the game. Buffalo closed to within a goal with 2:02 remaining as Ristolainen followed up on the play to bang home a rebound through Scriven’s legs.
However, the Sabres took a late penalty and couldn’t complete the comeback, allowing the Oilers to run out the clock.