BUFFALO — Clayton Keller set two Coyotes records to highlight Arizona’s resounding 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night at KeyBank Center.
By setting up Richard Panik’s goal at 6:32 of the third period, Keller, 19, notched the 55th point and 35th assist of his rookie season. No other freshman has produced that many points or assists for the team in a season since it relocated from Winnipeg to Arizona in 1996. Peter Mueller tallied 54 points for the Coyotes in 2007-08; Max Domi notched 34 assists in 2015-16.
“It’s cool,” Keller said. “It’s not really something I’m thinking about. More importantly, we got the win tonight and that’s all that matters … We’re playing really well right now and we want to keep this going and treat every game like it’s a playoff game. I think if we do that, we can carry on some momentum for next year.”
Keller also assisted on Derek Stepan’s power-play goal at 17:44 of the first period to extend his point streak to six games.
“Doing the right things in the ‘D’ zone leads to offense (and) chances,” Keller said regarding his late-season resurgence on offense. “I think I’ve been doing that a lot better. At the beginning of the year, I was minus whatever. Right now I’ve been a lot better at that, and I think I’m just getting some chemistry with linemates. (Stepan and Panik) are unbelievable guys to play with. They create space for me. I can’t give enough credit to those guys.”
With nine games to play, Keller is one point shy of producing the most points in a season by a member of the Coyotes – rookie or veteran – since Ray Whitney notched 77 and Radim Vrbata tallied 62 in 2011-12.
“He’s so intelligent. That’s why he’s been successful everywhere he’s been,” said Assistant Coach John MacLean, who works with the forwards. “He’s a student of the game. You can see the Johnny Gaudreau in him. You can see the Patrick Kane in him. These are things that he has watched and learned and put into his own game to become his own player. Somebody is going to emulate him some day.”
• Dylan Strome gave Arizona a 1-0 lead when he scored a power-play goal at 3:38 of the first period.
Strome banked a shot off Sabres goalie Chad Johnson’s back and into the net on his first shift since being recalled from the American Hockey League on Tuesday.
“I felt comfortable,” Strome said. ” …It feels good. Obviously you want to score, you want to help the team win. I’ve been having some success at the American league level and I’m just trying to translate it to here.”
Strome, who last played in the NHL on Dec. 16, skated 12:18 and co-led the team with four shots on goal.
“He got some power-play time,” Head Coach Rick Tocchet said. “I want to give him that sort of ice time to see what he can do. He cashed in. I hope that really loosens him up even more.”
• Antti Raanta made 29 saves to earn his fourth win in March and his 17th victory of the season, a new career-high for the 28-year goalie in his first season with Arizona.
“When you get a couple of wins, when you start to get everybody on the same page, there’s no more passengers,” Raanta said of the team’s recent success. “…It’s been working. And that’s the thing, when you see things working and when you get the wins and when you turn those one-goal games in your advantage, it makes a huge difference.”
• Arizona entered the game having scored just two power-play goals in its past 23 tries, but scored two in the first period. On the flip side, the Coyotes committed four penalties, but they did not allow Buffalo to score with a man advantage.
“I liked the movement, and when you shoot the puck, good things happen,” Tocchet said of the team’s power-play attack. “In the past, we’ve been kind of passing around, but it’s nice to get pucks on net and things can happen … Our power play was good – we had a couple goals – and obviously the penalty kill was the key. In this league, when you win the special teams you really give yourself a good chance to win the hockey game.”
• Tocchet was back behind the bench after missing Monday’s home game vs. Calgary so he could attend his mother’s funeral in the Toronto area.
“I’m just a routine guy,” Tocchet said regarding his quick return to the team. “I like to get back in routine … My mom would’ve wanted me to get back into these things.”
• Arizona played minus defenseman Jason Demers, whom the team recently announced will miss the rest of the season because of an upper-body injury.
• Tocchet said backup goalie Darcy Kuemper would start Thursday’s game at Carolina.