Compared to Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators, even an average performance by the New Jersey Devils would have been welcomed. In my opinion, the Devils did more than that - they actually played a very solid 60 minutes of hockey. The Buffalo Sabres matched them in general, and a fantastic performance by Ryan Miller made sure the game would be close. The only time of the game where the Sabres really did much better than the Devils was in the shootout.
The Devils' offense showed up, with pressure coming from all four lines, and put a staggering 40 shots on Ryan Miller. These weren't weak shots, they challenged Miller from multiple angles, and true to his form, came up big on everything except for one. Brian Rolston was the sole man to beat Miller tonight. Johnny Oduya found him behind the Sabres' defense, Rolston had the space, and unloaded a hard shot that froze Miller and beat him. But outside of that, Miller was able to get something on the puck and the Sabres defense did a decent job at clearing out loose and rebound pucks. Full credit to the Sabres for keeping it close.
Of course, it wasn't enough. Yes, the team put out a much better effort tonight. Yes, Jacques Lemaire switched up the lines and it worked out very well. Yes, the only goal given up had less to do with a defensive breakdown and more to do with Adam Mair and Thomas Vanek screening Martin Brodeur on Derek Roy's shot (Mair got the deflection). Yes, the Devils defense and Brodeur stopped 31 shots which isn't too bad - not too many plays where the defense got exposed. Yes, the offense actually was threatening tonight. Yet, the Devils could only score one goal and they lost in the shootout. Once again, finishing remains an issue. More chances are great, but that only means the Devils could have won and they didn't. I'd like to say this is a moral victory, a game where the Devils can feel good about what they accomplished on the ice.
But moral victories mean nothing in the standings. The point is nice, but the Devils absolutely need to build on this game going forward - beyond Friday's game in Toronto, but all the way through the Olympic break.
Check out Die by the Blade later on for a Sabres recap, where I'm almost certain there will be some praise for Miller's performance tonight. Here's the recap from NHL.com, complete with all the relevant stats from tonight's game. Read on after the jump for my further thoughts on tonight's game.
For those who like highlight videos, here's the highlight video of tonight's game from NHL.com:
Let me start with the shootout. No, the Devils didn't do very well in the shootout. The first round was OK. Brodeur was good on Drew Stafford, and Zach Parise's move was good, Miller's right leg held true. Then the second round came about. For some reason I'm still not sure what it is, Brodeur decided to lunge at Jochen Hecht's approach in the hopes of poking it away. Well, Hecht easily sidestepped it and put it in the empty net. That was silly by Brodeur. I won't fault him for his 65 minute performance, he literally could not see Roy's shot, much less Mair's deflection and he came up strong like Miller on everything else. But that was a bad decision by Brodeur. Jamie Langenbrunner compounded this by trying to fake out Miller but ultimately faked out no one, so he was easily stopped. Jason Pominville iced the shootout with a powerful shot in the slot, but I'm still shaking my head on Hecht's move.
See, I can criticize Brodeur. I just do it when it's actually warranted.
Tonight was an interesting game right from the start because Lemaire shifted the forwards around and the team came out strong. Maybe the Ottawa game was a big wake up call for them and it didn't matter? Either way, pretty much all four lines were able to generating something on offense in Buffalo tonight. Your top shooters on New Jersey are the following: Jamie Langenbrunner (6), Dean McAmmond (6), Patrick Davis (5), Rolston (4). All four were mostly separated for the game, which is impressive.
I mean, a unit of Parise-Rob Niedermayer-Langenbrunner was effective, and ZZ Pops was reunited in the third period and were effective. Brian Rolston looked more alive when Travis Zajac at center, but he didn't sulk when McAmmond or Niedermayer was there. Patrick Davis meshed well with Jay Pandolfo on a third line and put a bunch on net. Even a "fourth" line of Vladimir Zharkov-Dainius Zubrus-Niclas Bergfors didn't get much in terms of shots, but they kept rushing forward and continued to pressure Buffalo on offense, which just added to the momentum the Devils had. On defense, Mike Mottau had a much better game and I'd say Bryce Salvador was the most active defenseman in his own end. I like the fact that Johnny Oduya finally got a point with that excellent long pass to Rolston.
It sounds weird, but I really don't know who didn't look good for New Jersey. I would have liked the one power play they had to have been much better, it seemed to me that was the only time where the Devils struggled going forward. The faceoffs were just under even with Buffalo, with the team winning 25 out of 51, that could have been better. But I really can't complain too much about the Devils' performance.
The team seemingly had the puck more often, but not by a whole lot. Buffalo was content to build up their attacks in the transition game and then setting up, but they were more like a lightning strike from what I saw. They'd strike in with a good shot or two, but then the Devils would clean up a loose puck or stop a pass or get a block and go forward - leaving the Sabres back to defend. This isn't to say they weren't involved, they did put 32 shots in 65 minutes, and that's good. I just feel the Devils were pressing the issue a little more often, and therefore they got more shots on net. Especially in the first two periods of the game, where the Devils outshot the Sabres 28-19.
Both teams clearly played well, they played hard, and so the tie score at the end of regulation and then at overtime shouldn't surprise anyone. Winning in the shootout would have been nice, Brodeur not blowing a pokecheck in the shootout would have been better, but the Devils played a good game of hockey tonight. I'm not sure what more they can do to get more goals. Tonight, they shot the puck constantly and shot with purpose. Forwards would go to the net. Defensemen would make the extra effort to keep the puck in the zone and throw it in deep from the point. Devils were battling along the boards and hustling for loose pucks. What else can Devils fans realistically want the Devils to do to score more goals? I don't know.
The biggest takeaway that I want to see from tonight's game for Friday is an encouraged team. The Devils did a lot of good things tonight, and they should look to improve on top of that. It would be an absolute shame for them to feel discouraged just because they didn't win tonight after their effort tonight. Sure, losing sucks and it's a problem that the Devils are 4-5-1 in their last 10. But I can't get down on a performance like the one the Devils had tonight. The Sabres are a good team and they just matched their effort, Miller came through for them again to keep the game tight. I'd like to see more game efforts like this, actually. As far as the shootout goes, they'll get it right the next time.
Thanks to Steve and all the commenters from the GameThread. Thanks to all of you for reading. Please leave all your thoughts, concerns, questions, and other feelings from tonight's game in the comments.