Tonight, the New Jersey Devils hosted the Buffalo Sabres in a second half of a home-and-home set. They prevailed last night with a penalty shot overtime winner by Andy Greene. There was no need for such a dramatic finish tonight. The Devils put together a solid performance in all three periods and scored four goals in a 4-2 win over the Sabres. The victory not only swept the home-and-home set, but also this past week of games. Yes, the New Jersey Devils are now on a winning streak.
What I really liked about the Devils’ performance tonight was that they limited their rough patches. Instead of getting worked over for a period or two, they kept it to only a few minute stretches. The second period was a great example of this. The first five minutes of the second period was poor, from how the Devils turned the puck over on breakouts to their ineffective defensive play. They gave up a goal to Marcus Foligno due in part of one of those turnovers. But instead of that continuing on, the Devils made the adjustments and turned that period into positive one. The Devils battled back to keep attempts and shots even at even strength. Their breakouts were more on-point and they cut down on the turnovers. More importantly, they scored twice. Taylor Hall set up Nick Lappin for a beautiful top-shelf goal to re-take the lead. Damon Severson made a great cross-ice pass to Kyle Palmieri, who hammered a welcome top-corner shot past Robin Lehner. The second period had an ugly start but a welcomed finish with a 3-1 score.
While the Devils did not blow away Buffalo with over 40 shots on net, they kept working to find ways to attack. In the third period, in a 4-on-4 situation, John Moore finished a 2-on-1 pass from Adam Henrique that trickled through Lehner. Did the Devils rest back on the abbreviated power play after said 4-on-4? No. They kept going forward if they had the play. It helped that they drew two late power plays. If anything, they came close to scoring a fifth goal. Hall was very close to breaking his goalless streak, but was robbed in the slot by Lehner. But that’s more of what I like to see from the Devils; taking opportunities to at least keep the opposition honest with a multiple-goal lead. Ideally they would extend it; but it worked out. There was little concern even after Matt Moulson got around Yohann Auvitu for a high short-side goal on Cory Schneider to make it 4-2. The Devils appeared to be in control and they ultimately were for the win.
Looking back at the week the Devils swept, it’s remarkable that this game was won comfortably. The first win over Carolina featured the opposition taking most of the attack but the Devils succeeded thanks to Michael Cammalleri’s hat trick. The second win was through the team’s first shootout of the season. The third win, again, came from a rare occurrence: a penalty shot in overtime - nevermind a penalty shot taken by a defenseman, or that the penalty shot taken by a defenseman was a success. This was just a game where the Devils perhaps did not dominate but they were better than their opponents and the score reflected that. That’s a fine way as any to extend a point streak at home (Devils are now 6-0-1 at the Rock) and a winning streak to four games.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Die by the Blade for a Buffalo-based reaction to this game.
Lovely Goals: It is worth noting that all four goals by the Devils were lovely goals. Kyle Quincey scored his first with the Devils off a long-distance snap shot. Josh Gorges and Adam Henrique were in Lehner’s way, which contributed to the goal occurring at all. The shot itself was a clean blast to the top-right corner. It was very nice.
It paled in comparison to the two second period goals. Casey Nelson tried to play the puck back, only Taylor Hall was behind him. This gave Hall plenty of space to work with. He could not charge in himself due to Justin Falk. Falk put his stick down to try to deny a pass to the middle, where Nick Lappin was cutting in. Hall made a perfect saucer pass to go over the stick, collected cleanly by Lappin, and then Lappin went high glove-side on Lehner. I don’t know what was better, the pass or the shot. Alex recently wrote about how Lappin may be here to stay. A goal like that ensures he will be for some time.
Later in the second period, Andy Greene made an outlet pass from the left boards to an open Damon Severson. With plenty of ice in front of him, Severson led a rush of four Devils up ice. Severson carried the puck into Buffalo’s end and then sent a great cross-ice pass to Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri fired a fantastic wrist shot to the top right (his right, which is Lehner’s glove side) to make it 3-1. It was a great decision by Severson to take charge and make the pass that he did for his second assist of the night. It was an important goal for Palmieri, who has been cold for quite a few games now. Palmieri was feisty early on tonight and was bailed out of an offensive-zone slashing call when Cody Franson shoved him down in front of the ref that blew the whistle. He needed to be a more positive contributor. One can’t be more positive than scoring a goal like this.
In the third period, the Devils scored arguably their least-pretty goal. A series of penalties resulted in a 4-on-4 situation for the fourth time tonight. Hall tried to break the puck out himself, but he was denied. Quincey was able to get the puck out to Hall in the neutral zone, who then hit a rushing Henrique with a short pass. It was the right call as there was a 2-on-1 forming. Henrique dished a backhand pass through Josh McCabe and right to John Moore. Moore kept his one-timer low. While Lehner got a piece of it, it was going through his five hole and he didn’t stop all of the puck’s momentum. So it trickled in. That part was fortunate; the play itself was pretty.
All goals in their own way have beauty, but it is worth noting and sharing that the four the Devils did score tonight were from aesthetically pleasing plays and shots. Also, I wonder if high glove side is a problem for Lehner as he was beaten there three times tonight. Maybe it was an off night, since Buffalo has averaged less than 2.5 goals per game this season. All the more reason to be pleased that the Devils scored four at even strength tonight.
Warmer Devils: I have to thank Devin for writing the game preview for this game. He did a good job with the quick turnaround after last night’s win. He noted some cold streaks on the Devils:
Cold Streaks: Kyle Palmieri has gone four games without a point, Adam Henrique has gone five games without a point, and while Taylor Hall has been great, he hasn’t scored a goal in seven games. Once they break out of these cold streaks, this team could be good.
Palmieri and Henrique snapped both of those streaks tonight. I’ve been harder on Palmieri than the other two since that his main role is to be a shooter. He provided a lot of value last season from scoring thirty goals; production is what he brings to the table. Henrique at least can defend and play in multiple situations effectively even when he’s not producing. Although he’s had struggles in the last few games too. Tonight was different as Palmieri scored a great goal and Henrique picked up two assists. Both were among the Devils’ better players in possession tonight. They were good. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come.
Hall was close to score, but his drought is now eight games long. I have not brought up his lack of goals namely because there really is not anything else he can do. Hall has been creating and taking quite a few shots. He had three tonight out of five attempts. Hall made a glorious saucer pass to Lappin for his goal and he made the quick outlet pass in the neutral zone to Henrique that led to Moore’s goal. Hall has been productive while being one of the most prolific shooters in the league at this moment (he has 60. 60!). So I’ve been fine with his play despite the lack of goals. He’s been good to excellent throughout those eight games.
About the Defense...: Holding the Sabres to only 23 shots was very good. The defense was not without struggles. I was not a fan of how Ben Lovejoy and Yohann Auvitu performed. Neither helped push the play forward. Their “highlights” involved both goals against. Lovejoy bit on a criss-cross between Brian Gionta that led to Foligno getting behind the defense for a goal. Jacob Josefson made the bad situation with a heinous turnover from his own end; Lovejoy just made it worse. Auvitu was not the greatest in his own end. Live, I thought Moulson just bodied him. Upon replay, Auvitu was just late getting to him. Not a good play for the first-year defender. The pairing of John Moore and Quincey was not always the best from a possession standpoint. However, each made a significant contribution that outshines that: each scored a goal tonight. They were not present for a goal against. That’s positive in that regard.
I will say that I was really impressed with the first pairing. Andy Greene and Damon Severson just kept things mostly in control. Severson stood out in particular for setting up Quincey for his goal and creating the Devils’ third goal. He’s now just behind Hall for the team lead in points and he’s done it while playing well in his own end. Severson has absolutely blossomed into this first pairing role next to Greene and it has been a joy to watch. I thought he was New Jersey’s best skater tonight from my point of view.
Power? Play: Discipline will likely be one of the themes of Buffalo’s next practice or team meeting. Cody Franson wiped out a potential power play by shoving Palmieri - who was whistled for slashing - down right in front of the referee after a whistle. Evander Kane alone took two big penalties and, coincidentally, both were fouls against Vernon Fiddler. The first wiped out a Buffalo power play. The second led to a New Jersey power play that was cut short by Severson before Moore scored and then Nicholas Baptiste took a call for a short 4-on-3. Late in the third, Casey Nelson held up Palmieri as the forward was driving to - and then into - Lehner. The Sabres killed that, but not long after, Foligno’s stray stick hit Lovejoy in the face. With less than two minutes left to play, any remote chance of a comeback was scuttled as the Sabres had to kill another power play. After a penalty-less second period, the Sabres took four calls in the third. That on top of preventing a power play because someone lost their cool. The coaches can’t be happy about any of that.
It’s a shame the Devils never really took advantage of their power plays. Granted, three (I think it was three) were shortened from the standard two minute length. They had some good possession on some of the advantages, but they only created five shots on net. The Devils displayed a tendency to try for a pass through the Sabres’ penalty killing formation, which often did not work as intended. When they did not go for that, they were more comfortable moving the puck around. Still, the shots were not always there - and so they did not take them. The lack of conversions has resulted in a long drought for the power play. It may not have felt like a big deal. Again, a number of them were abbreviated power plays. Also, the Devils did not have a 5-on-3 or a four-minute power play. And the Devils were leading in the game when they had these power plays; it was not like Friday night where a power play goal could have tied or broken a 1-1 deadlock. I’d like to see them be more successful and soon, though.
No Cammalleri: Michael Cammalleri did not dress tonight due to a personal issue, as per Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice.
Minor Moves: Around this game - and not necessarily worthy of their own posts - the Devils made two moves on gameday. First, the team officially announced that they signed Brandon Gignac to an entry level contract. Gignac was a third round pick by the Devils in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and he has been putting up the points for Shawinigan in the QMJHL. Congratulations to him. Second, the Devils traded a conditional seventh round pick to Philadelphia for Petr Straka. Straka was a Columbus second round pick in 2010, but the Blue Jackets never signed him. Philly did and he has largely played with their AHL affiliate since then. Straka was scratched on a deep Lehigh Valley team; he will now go to Albany. For more about Straka, check out this post by Tim Riday at Highland Park Hockey.
Military Appreciation & Food Drive Night: The Devils hosted their annual food drive this evening. It was heartening to see plenty of boxes on pallets filled with donated food. The Devils also had Military Appreciation night. Thank you to all of those who have and continue to serve in the military. Those that did attend got to see a great win.
One Last Thought: The Devils won four games in a row. First with on the strength of a hat trick by Cammalleri; a shootout win for the second one; an Andy Greene penalty shot goal in overtime led to the third one; and a solid regulation win tonight. Great week!
Your Take: The Devils won 4-2 and have now won four in a row. What did you make of tonight’s game? Who was the best Devil on the ice tonight? What did you like the most and the least about this performance? What should the Devils take away from this one before they embark on a road trip next week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with the site account, @AAtJerseyBlog. Special thanks go to Devin for his game preview of this game. Thank you for reading.