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Game 17 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Buffalo Sabres

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The Time: 7:30 PM EDT

The Broadcast:TV-Versus, TSN2 (Sorry, no Doc Emrick); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-7-1) at the Buffalo Sabres (11-6-0)

Last Devils Game:  Wow. After a back and forth bout through the first two periods, the Boston Bruins and Devils played a highly entertaining third period, in which the Bruins ended up victorious 4-3. Playing once again without forward Ilya Kovalchuk the Devils were led by Nick Palmieri'stwo third period goals. It wasn't enough though. The Bruins pinned the Devils back for most of the third period and had they been able to push the game into overtime, the Devils would have stole a point. Despite the loss, the third period was some fun hockey to watch. With a playoff like feel and pace it was a nail biting affair and the Devils came up about 200 seconds short of a point. John has the recap of the game here.

Buffalo's Last Game:A 3-2 shootout win over the Montreal Canadians moved Buffalo to an 11-6 record and first place in the Northeast Division.  It was also a nice bounce back game for the Sabres after having Boston beat them up physically and on the scoreboard in a 6-2 loss on Saturday night. SBNation site Die By The Blade has the recap of the game versus the Canadians here.     

However, the victory has been largely overshadowed by the Milan Lucic/Ryan Miller hit which has been called accidental/intentional/suspend-able.  I guess ones opinion has been largely influenced by the jersey one roots for.  View the hit for yourself here. The result of the hit has been bad for Miller. Diagnosed witha concussion, he missed the game vs. Montreal and is out indefinitely. Backup/co-starting goaltender Jonas Enroth hasn't been a slouch though. The 23 year old Swede is 6-0 with a 1.76 GAA GAA/.942 save percentage and is the #1 option in net for Buffalo with Miller down.

Also of note from Buffalo's last game?  Tyler Myers was a healthy scratch. The former Calder winner has struggled this season and Mike Weber was inserted into the line-up.
The Goal:  Battle. Back to back games are always tough. They are even tougher when you play a physical team like the Bruins and then turn around and play 24 hours later. To win this game the Devils will need to play similar to how they did in Boston and drive the net to create scoring opportunities.

After the jump I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game.

Will Ilya be Back?

Ilya Kovalchuk could be back tonight after missing the last 5 games. He skated in practice yesterday and took part in pre-game warm ups but did not play. His presence is certainly missed on a horrific power play that can't buy a goal right now. My only concern would be if Kovalchuk is on the point for the power play and a short handed chance by Buffalo causes him to somehow re-injure his groin as he might strain himself trying to catch up to the play. Let's hope that if Kovalchuk is back, he's 100 percent. This is not the type of injury you want to linger throughout the year. 

The PSE&G Powerless Play

With or without Kovalchuk the Devils will face the Sabres 3rd ranked penalty kill unit.  I don't think this match-up bodes well for the 30th ranked power play.  Put it this way, you know your power play is bad when your fans are just happy there hasn't been a short handed opportunity for the opposition.

Beware of the 'Backup' Goalie.

As mentioned above, Enroth has been lights out this year and is playing better than Miller. So despite playing against the Buffalo backup, there is no advantage for the Devils tonight in net. I feel this game might be similar to the Nashville game, with Enroth playing the role of Pekka Rinne. It took a lot of hard work and effort to get pucks past Rinne and the intensity that won that game will need to be duplicated. 

Money Well Spent?

Last June if I had told you that a New York team would spend to the cap and also have an additional $5,000,000 buried in the AHL would you have believed me? Of course you would have. You would have thought 'That sounds just like the Rangers', but this year it's not the Rangers. It's the Sabres. With new ownership aboard the Sabres are no longer in the middle of the pack when it comes to payroll. After the season they added defensemen Robyn Regehr from Calgary via trade and then in free agency the Sabres nabbed two high profile free agents in Christian Ehroff and Ville Leino. The Sabres added scoring depth and two top four defenseman over the summer. The moves have paid off dividends so far, with the Sabres in first place in the Northeast Division.

Buffalo's Solid Defense.

They are not all well known names, but the grouping of Myers (when he isn't in the doghouse) Ehroff, Regehr and Jordan Leopold is a very solid set of defensemen. Zone starts/penalty kill time indicate that Myers and Regehr are more focused on the defensive side of things while Leopold and Ehroff get plently of power play time and enjoy more favorable zone starts. It's a well balanced group that coach Lindy Ruff has playing well despite all the new faces.

To Have A Chance Tonight...

The Devils must shut down the duo of Thomas Vanek and Jason PominvilleWith 11 goals and 11 assists it's easy to say to 'watch out for Vanek', but whoever gets the /Pominville assignment has a tough game ahead. The Austrian left wing has had a fantastic start to the year, with three game winning goals among his total.  I would think Pete DeBoer will try to match the Patrik Elias line against the Vanek line, and I am going to guess the likely defensive pair will be Mark Fayne and Henrik Tallinder.  This will put pressure on the other offensive units, specifically the Zach Parise line, to put offensive pressure on Buffalo as the Elias line may have a rough go of it.

What are you looking for in tonight's game?  Do you think the Devils have enough 'Battle' in them after last night's physical game against Boston?  Do you think Kovalchuk will return? Comment below!