The Time: 3:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG
Opposition: The Buffalo Sabres opened off their season with one of the worst losses in hockey - a shootout loss, and followed it with a sloppy regulation loss to the New York Islanders. These were the lines in Sunday’s practice, according to NHL.com’s Chris Ryndak:
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 25 Seth Griffith
67 Benoit Pouliot - 23 Sam Reinhart - 21 Kyle Okposo
22 Johan Larsson - 10 Jacob Josefson - 26 Matt Moulson - 17 Jordan Nolan
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 93 Victor Antipin
6 Marco Scandella - 5 Matt Tennyson
4 Josh Gorges
40 Robin Lehner / 31 Chad Johnson
If I’m not mistaken, the main change in Sunday’s practice lines was Kyle Okposo and Seth Griffith trading places. I’m not sure if that will be enough for the Sabres to overcome their woes. For example, the Buffalo Sabres have a negative goal differential on the power play. After giving up two shorthanded to the Islanders, their total of shorthanded goals against went to three for the young season - they gave up four all of last season. Meanwhile, they are one for nine on the power play. Meanwhile, the Devils played a great special teams game against the Colorado Avalanche, and they have players who can disrupt and create chances on the penalty kill.
The Buffalo Sabres’ goalie for today’s game is unknown as of now, as Robin Lehner was pulled early in the second at 4-0, and Chad Johnson played a bit over a half-game’s worth of time. Regardless of the goaltender, the team needs to play better in front of the crease. Unfortunately for the team, learning a new system will sometimes bring some horrid games. Nonetheless, the Sabres will look to move past their poor play against our New Jersey Devils.
Ambiguity: The New Jersey Devils are a bit banged up. Neither Brian Boyle nor Michael McLeod made the trip to Buffalo. And after sustaining injuries in the first game versus the Colorado Avalanche, both Kyle Palmieri and Drew Stafford are game-time decisions. Here were the practice lines before the short plane trip to Buffalo on Sunday, in Amanda Stein’s handwriting. Note that Cory Schneider will be getting the start this afternoon.
One of the first things to note is that the Devils did not have a fourth line right wing at practice. It appears the team will not be calling anyone up from the AHL, as the injuries to Palmieri and Stafford are day-to-day, and doing so would probably therefore mean sending down a defenseman. If neither can play, John Hynes is prepared to do as I hoped:
Hynes says playing 11F/7D tomorrow a consideration as well.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) October 8, 2017
My issue for these lines is how Hynes structured the bottom (five). Brian Gibbons did fine on the penalty kill on Saturday, but he leaves something to be desired in even strength play. You could say the same for Miles Wood, but I would still rather see Wood’s speed on the third line than Gibbons’...penalty killing. I’m not really sure what his even strength skill is, if any exists. His more notable move brings me to my next point.
Jesper Bratt: The Devils’ biggest surprise scored a beautiful power play goal, made a great pass to John Moore to set up a shorthanded goal, and overall looked very solid in his NHL debut. In practice Sunday, he lined up next to Pavel Zacha at first line right wing. He may or may not be playing there this afternoon, depending on what happens with Palmieri and Stafford. If only one comes back, I think he’ll still stay at the top two lines rather than play Gibbons or Wood at right wing. I could be wrong, but that’s a small hypothetical prediction for today. Regardless, I cannot wait to see Jesper Bratt continue to make his statement on staying with the NHL club. This is the sort of unexpected impact that can push a team closer to contention, and I hope to see Bratt make himself indispensable. Having played 4:47 of shorthanded ice time in an NHL debut for a 19 year old, and quickly being a power play contributor - he’s certainly well on his way to making that case.
Room for Improvement: Read John’s recap if you’d like to know some more about the Devils’ victory over the Colorado Avalanche. The main thing I would like to see from the team against the Buffalo Sabres is keeping the puck from reaching Schneider as much as the first game. I don’t think that Buffalo will have many games where they only get one goal on 41 shots. They may not have been on great opportunities most of the time, but the team could still do a better job at shot suppression.
Also, the Devils cannot rely on a 75% power play efficiency to win games. I’m not betting on a great special teams day, even against the Sabres. To prove that they can compete, the Devils are going to need to start winning games with even strength play. With the forwards being potentially further weakened, the skaters need to be on their game today.
The Goal: Build upon the first game of the year, especially on the defensive end. If Schneider’s job is made easier, any game can be won. In helping to potentially bury an out of sync conference team early in the season, the Devils can try to push themselves into a good position to start the year. In order to compete, they need to take advantage of flawed squads - especially when the games after are against teams that have been scoring plenty of goals and are most likely playoff teams.
Your Take: What do you want to see from this game, aside from a two in the win column? What do you think of this Buffalo Sabres squad? Of all the things that went right in the first game, which do you think is the most likely to be illusory success? How should the Devils deal with that? Please leave your take in the comments, and thank you for reading.