Patrik Elias has been part of the foundation for the New Jersey Devils since 1999. He's become the all-time leader in goals, assists, and points for the franchise. Tonight, he hit two more milestones in his long career. Elias scored one goal and picked up two assists in the 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The points were important. The goal was the game's first, a re-direction of a Mike Cammalleri shot that beat Jhonas Enroth, put him just one behind the mark of 400 goals. His pitchforking of a loose puck sprung Travis Zajac for a shorthanded breakaway that he converted was his first assist, the 600th of his career. The clearance shortly after Enroth was pulled became the secondary assist on Mike Cammalleri's game-icing empty net goal. That was his 1,000th career point, which makes Elias the 82nd player in NHL history to hit quadruple digits in the points column, all of them with New Jersey. This puts the exclamation mark on the "Yes" answer to whether the team should retire #26 in the future. The legendary Devils forward had a fantastic night and his efforts helped the Devils get a win tonight.
Elias was the hero of a mixed performance by the Devils. The good parts were at the start. The New Jersey Devils were absolutely dominant in the first period. They were doing whatever they wanted to the Sabres in the neutral zone. If the Sabres got an offensive opportunity, it's because an attempted zone exit was blocked. Those were rare as the Devils kept coming at them. Elias' early goal set the tone. Enroth made a number of impressive stops to keep it a one-goal game. That didn't last when Jordin Tootoo - yes, Jordin Tootoo - fired a laser over Enroth's left shoulder before the halfway mark of the period. The Devils continued to swarm as the Sabres just were trying to get out of the period. They got a power play and not only did the Devils give them nothing (no shots) but Elias sprung Zajac for a breakaway goal. As a final sign of dominance, the Devils got a late power play and spent nearly all two minutes of it on the attack. Between Elias and Cammalleri sending multiple passes through the middle of the ice and the Sabres just at a standstill, it was if they didn't know how to defend a 1-3-1 formation. It was the best power play possible without scoring. The Devils finished the period with twenty-five total attempts on net to the Sabres' five. The Sabres' performance at that point could be summed up two letters: P-U.
Whatever Ted Nolan in the locker room, though, changed their mood for the second period. The Sabres were noticeably more aggressive going after loose pucks. The Devils had a number of passes picked off and poor decisions on defense, which led to multiple odd man rushes and crashes at the crease. The Devils were just sloppy with the puck, particularly in their own end against Buffalo's forechecking. Cory Schneider was excellent at warding them all off for sometime, but the Sabres would get one and nearly a second in the second period. The one was a power play blast by Mikhail Grigorenko near the high slot that went off the inside of the post and in. The near second were with those chances and one lateral shot that nearly went off Schneider's back and into the net. While the Devils had some bursts of offense, it was reminiscent of many games in the past - particularly the ones where leads were blown.
The third period was an amalgamation of the first two. The Devils started off hot and looked to put the game away in the first seven minutes or so of the period. Buffalo was back to just dumping pucks away and hoping they could get a desperate stop. Eventually, the Devils' started erring at moving the puck and the Sabres began to have more life after going a long time without a shot on net. Their forechecking hit home, their defensemen were keeping pucks in play, and they were finding their teammates on the weakside. Philip Varone was a thorn in the Devils' side all night long (5 shots!), and he nearly made it a one goal game around the halfway mark - only to be denied by the post. The Devils would settle the game down in subsequent minutes. Cammalleri sealed it with an empty netter and the game was just played out, late power play not withstanding.
I'm pleased with the 4-1 result. I'm very happy I got to see Elias play like Elias did when he was younger and set some history for himself and the team as no Devil registered 1,000 points for the organization before him. I enjoyed the first period, which I would argue was one of the best of the entire season by the teams. But this wasn't the decisive win the score would indicate because of the sloppy play after the first. I know score effects come into play with leads. I respect that Buffalo wasn't going to lay down for sixty minutes and just muddle through the game. But the Devils could have been sharper and it's those stretches of play that result in leads getting lost and it partially explains why the team is where it is right now. I'm not saying the Devils should have crushed Buffalo for three periods like they did in the first; but they could have been smarter. Nevertheless, they were saved by Schneider and some luck, and the lead was preserved.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Log | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Please visit Die by the Blade for an opposition-based opinion.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, you too can see Elias' milestones being reached in this game highlight video:
Elias Was Great, So Were These Devils: A number of Devils had standout performances other than #26. Let's quickly go over who I noticed that had a strong effort on the ice.
I really liked how Adam Larsson played tonight. He got 23:35, the most ice time on the team, and even got regular shifts on the power play and penalty kill. He was very good on the puck and didn't make too many errors. He was solid with Andy Greene. While tonight's opponent was the Sabres, this gives me confidence in a Greene-Larsson first pairing for the next few weeks. If Larsson can have more nights like this, then it's going to be a fun decision as to where to place Damon Severson when he returns.
While they didn't register a point, I liked most of what I saw going forward from Adam Henrique, Scott Gomez, and Jaromir Jagr. Henrique and Jagr each had three shots, and that line nearly scored a couple of times tonight. The only blemishes was that Jagr took a silly hooking penalty that turned out to be costly and they were sloppy like everyone else in the second.
Mike Cammalleri had a very good night. He wasn't very good centering a line against Philly, he was much better with Zajac and Elias tonight. Elias and Cammalleri especially crushed it from a possession standpoint. He ended up with four shots on net, two attempts blocked, the set up for Elias' goal that started it, and the empty netter that essentially ended the game. That's a very good performance and it makes me hopeful for more in the future.
Michael Ryder had his typical foibles, such as not helping on defense and not making some smart decisions with the puck. The difference tonight was that he got the puck on offense more than just a handful of times. He got three shots on net out of ten attempts. Since I'm always bagging on Ryder by stating that if he's not shooting, he's not helping, I can't ignore that as a positive. Granted, I would've preferred more of those pucks on net, but it's far superior to the nights where he doesn't register more than one or two attempts - and those don't hit the net either. He was at least more helpful than Dainius Zubrus and Tuomo Ruutu tonight. Pro-tip for the future, Ryder, don't try to shoot when two Sabres are in your way at the blueline.
I am still kind of in shock that Tootoo scored the goal the way he did. It was just a fantastic shot. The fourths weren't bad at all and any night where they get a goal without getting messed up is a good one for them.
Lastly, Schneider is very good. He has the post to thank for stopping that Varone put-back in the third, but after a handful of odd man rushes and shifts where the Devils looked like, well, the Sabres, he made more than his fair share of bailout saves.
Who Wasn't So Good for the Devils: I didn't like the Zubrus, Ryder, Ruutu line as a whole. They struggled the most in that sloppy second period, particularly against Grigorenko, Cody Hodgson, and Nicolas Deslauriers. I don't know if we'll see a change there for Thursday since the Zajac line was productive and the Gomez line was threatening. We'll see.
I wasn't such a big fan of Mark Fraser or Seth Helgeson tonight. Whereas Fraser was solid in his conservative play against Philly, he took a few more chances tonight and got burnt a few times. Seeing Marek Zidlicky back defending odd man rushes wasn't a good sight, though Schneider made the stops and Zidlicky at least dissuaded a killer pass. Helgeson was just "there," which isn't a good sign for someone who has an opportunity to make his case. Once Eric Gelinas returns and Peter Harrold is good to go, we may not see either for much longer.
Jon Merrill continues to befuddle me in general. Some shifts or games, he looks like another Andy Greene. Others, like tonight, he would do questionable things. Several times, he would attempt clears or passes out of his own end into traffic or with Sabres in the way. He struggled with the forecheck. He wasn't confident on offense to contribute much, and so he didn't with not even a shooting attempt. I don't know if these are signs of a developing player, signs that he's not going to develop into much of one, or just an off night. I'll choose the latter - for now.
Mea Culpa: I wasn't happy that the Devils did not sell out against the Flyers, and so I suggested in my last recap that salespeople should be worried for future games like a Tuesday night against Buffalo. Tonight, they got a very good and lively crowd. Granted, I think this game was the one for the coat drive vouchers and it was a college night. Still, a legitimate 15,000 plus on a Tuesday night against one of the worst teams in the league isn't anything to sneeze at - comps, promos, or otherwise. Let's hope it continues, especially when it's time for renewals (that's going to be...interesting).
Blast the Horn: Long live the fan(s) that bring horns to the game! I'll take off-key noises leading the crowd into chants over pre-packaged "Make some noise" bits and the irritating volume-raising of the goal song any day of the week and twice on gameday. The larger populace loved it, from kids to adults of all ages just like Rock and Roll Part 2. Those bothered by it, I have three words for you: Deal with it.
The Return of Bernier: Steve Bernier was OK. He didn't do too much wrong. He didn't do too much right, though he got sprung for a one-on-one in the first against Enroth. Bernier put the puck just too high over the top left corner, but at least he had the opportunity. I think he'll be better once he's more used to playing.
Again, This Buffalo Team is Bad: As much as the Sabres tried to make a game of it (and the Devils), that first period speaks loudly to how putrid they can be. It was a reminder to everyone that says, "You may want your team to tank, but this is the team that's actually going to do it." And then proceeds to be completely out of position and battle for no pucks. Good on Buffalo for fighting back for the second and a part of the third, but it was not to be largely in part to that first period of brilliant dominance.
Since November 14: That date was the last time the Devils won two games in a row this season. I believe a streak requires three games at a minimum. With Boston and the Isles coming up back-to-back, we'll see if the Devils can make one against some better opponents.
Your Take: Patrik Elias was the star of the night. What did you make of the Devils' performance? Did you think they cruised too much after an amazing first period? Do you think it mattered given the opponent? Who did you think had a great game besides Elias? What should the Devils learn from this game before their next two? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.