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Game 75 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Buffalo Sabres

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (34-35-5) at the Buffalo Sabres (37-28-9)

The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils road trip took them to Pittsburgh for a game against the Penguins.  Defense reigned supreme as both teams struggled to get any consistent offense. The Penguins attempted more shots and had the better of possession, but they couldn't solve Martin Brodeur.  Some of the Devils' best chances didn't even result in shots on net, so they couldn't stop Marc-Andre Fleury.  Both goalies got a shutout and James Neal was the only one to score in the resulting shootout. The Devils lost 1-0 and my recap of the frustrating game is here.

The Last Sabres Game: While the Devils were struggling to get forward in Pittsburgh, the Sabres were hosting Florida. Buffalo definitely had an easier time, as they put up four goals on the floundering Florida franchise. The two goals 13 seconds apart in the third period sealed the deal, turning a 2-1 lead into a more decisive 4-1 score.  Drew Stafford got a brace (2 goals) and an assist; Jason Pominville got a goal and an assist; and Tyler Ennis was flying all over the place while picking up two assists.  Florida got a consolation goal late, so the Sabres finished the night with a 4-2 win.  Zachary Zielonka of Die by the Blade has this recap of the night's events.

The Last Devils-Sabres Game:  The last time these two teams faced each other was way back in November. November 10, 2010 to be precise.  The Sabres and Devils engaged in a high scoring affair at the Rock, with each team putting up 4 goals in regulation.  Really.  But no more than that, a shootout was needed to decide it - and Buffalo took it to give the Devils a 5-4 shootout loss. You may remember this as the one where Ilya Kovalchuk lost the puck on his attempt. However, my recap of the game shows that the Devils' errors were beyond the shootout (like allowing 4 goals).

The Goal: Get shots - on net. Like more than 21, Devils.  The Devils succeeded at doing this in Columbus and won 3-0.  The Devils did plenty of this in Boston, but lost largely because of an awesome goaltender and that half of them came in the first period.  The Devils absolutely struggled against Pittsburgh's defense and so they were fortunate to get a point out of the game.  It's as I said in the recap of the Pittsburgh game: it's one thing to not score goals, but it's worse when it's such a struggle to just get rubber on net. Especially with 8 minutes of power play time.  While the Penguins do boast a three-headed beast on defense (Martin, Letang, Michalek) and an ace PK unit, it's incredibly difficult to win that way. And it will be just as difficult, if not impossible, if the Devils have similar struggles tonight against Buffalo.  Go and get more shots on net, Devils.  This applies to the big guns like Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias to the support players like Brian Rolston and David Clarkson to the rookies like Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby to the fourth liners like Adam Mair and David Steckel; and even to the defensemen like Mark Fayne and Henrik Tallinder.  I repeat: get more shots on net tonight, Devils.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  For the Buffalo side of things, please check out Die by the Blade.

It's important that the Devils offense shows up to play because their defense will be undercut.  Both Colin White and Anton Volchenkov left the Pittsburgh game early with injuries.  The official term for both is "lower body injury."  White appeared to hurt his knee (White denied that per this tweet by Tom Gulitti), while I'm not sure what exactly caused Volchenkov to leave early. Either way, Tom Gulitti reported last night that Jacques Lemaire thinks either won't likely be available to play tonight.  If that's the case, this means Mark Fraser, who has been a healthy scratch, will probably play tonight in place of one of them.   Gulitti reported this morning that the Devils called up Jay Leach from Albany under emergency conditions, which gives the Devils a sixth defenseman.   Gulitti tweeted this morning that Lou said both were day-to-day, so both may not be out for a long time at least.

The Devils sorely missed White and Volchenkov last night against Pittsburgh, and they'll be missed tonight.  Buffalo has been quite good offensively this season.  The Sabres are fourth in the NHL in average shots per game with 33, and their 220 goals scored is good for third in the Eastern Conference. They also have a fairly successful power play unit, their success rate of 18.8% is tied for tenth in the NHL.  As per Behind the Net's team stats, their even strength shooting percentage of 8.1% won't wow you; but they do have the third best shots for per 60 rate in the NHL at 32.4. Basically, this is a Sabres team that can and will generate shots.  That doesn't bode well for a Devils team that played 65 minutes last night and are now without two strong defensive defensemen.

The Sabres have been particularly productive as of late.  They're 3-1-1 in their last 5 games. Since losing to Carolina 1-0, they destroyed Atlanta 8-2, lost in OT to Nashville 4-3, beat Montreal 2-0, and defeated Florida 4-2.  That's 17 goals in their last 4 games, way superior to the Devils' 5 goals in their last 5 (which includes two shutouts).  And this is with leading goal scorer Drew Stafford in a slump, which was broken last night as per this Mike Harrington article in the Buffalo News.  While the Devils hit a serious lull on offense, the Sabres are "feeling it."  All the more reason for the Devils offense to get shots to keep Buffalo defending to help their depleted defense.

So who are the dangerous Sabres?  Here are their top four scorers.

2010-11 - Thomas Vanek 73 25 38 63 -3 22 10 0 4 213 11.7
2010-11 - Tyler Ennis 74 19 28 47 -1 24 5 0 1 191 9.9
2010-11 - Drew Stafford 54 28 17 45 9 30 9 0 4 156 17.9
2010-11 - Jason Pominville 65 19 25 44 0 15 5 1 2 197 9.6

Incidentally, Buffalo has 7 other players with at least 10 goals.  Two are defensemen: Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold, who both lead the team's blueline and the team in the minutes.  Two are injured: Derek Roy and Jochen Hecht.  Though this article in the Buffalo News by Mike Harrington reveals that Hecht may be back in the lineup tonight - if head coach Lindy Ruff can make some room for him.  Three provide depth in scoring: Tim Connolly, Nathan Gerbe, and Paul Gaustad.  I know it sounds like a broken record, but the Devils defense needs to find something within themselves to ward off the Buffalo attack and the offense needs to do what they can to force the Sabres back.

At least Buffalo has been a team that's not averse to allowing shots against.  The Sabres have allowed an average of 30.6 shots per game, ranking them 16th in that stat.  Their penalty kill has been similarly middle-of-the-road-with-respect-to-the-league. Their success rate is 82.7%, 15th in the league.  It's not that they are sieves, the situational data for shots against per 60 at 4-on-5 and 5-on-5 situations show that.  Just that they aren't walls either.  Unless Leopold and Myers have excellent games, the Devils should have an easier time breaking into Buffalo's end of the rink compared to last night's game.  At least I hope so.

2010-11 - Ryan Miller 62 3658 32 21 160 2.62 1870 1710 .914 4
2010-11 - Jhonas Enroth 8 454 5 2 21 2.78 224 203 .906 0

One item of interest that has yet to be reported on yet are the goaltenders.  Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur both played last night and it's unclear whether they'll start again.  Buffalo really needs these points to keep ahead of Carolina and to catch the Rangers.  Since he only faced 24 shots last night, I could see Miller playing again instead of Jhonas Enroth.  We shall see if that's true.

The Devils, well, they'll be looking to put in a better effort tonight.   Gulitti tweeted this morning from the Devils' optional skate that he thinks Brodeur will start again.  If true, I can't say I fully understand the decision.  He did quite well last night, but he did a lot with handling 61 shooting attempts, 27 saves, and 65 minutes plus a shootout.  To me, there's not much of a reason to play him two straight nights.  The playoff dream is essentially over, after all.  That said, I can't say Johan Hedberg would be the better option given how well Buffalo's offense has been doing as of late and overall this season.

All the same, the Devils skaters really need to get going on offense lest they want a weakened defense and either Brodeur or Moose to suffer at the strikes by the Sabres.  Do you think the Devils will be able to do just that?  Will the Devils end their 4-game road trip on a high note?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.  If you want to put up any news about the game, please do so in the comments - just remember to link to the source.  Thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.