The third of four, and the series finale between the Devils and the Sabres, looks at the Devils trying to win and sweep the Sabres.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Audio - TONJ, WFAN 660 AM
The Matchup: The Buffalo Sabres (21-20-10, SBN: Die By The Blade) at the New Jersey Devils (22-21-10)
The Last Devils Game: Two nights ago, the Devils visited Columbus for the first time this year, and it’s safe to say that they played terrifically. They extended their road winning streak to six, which is one less than their consecutive home losses streak. To start off the scoring, Taylor Hall took advantage of a Zach Werenski no-stick, and snuck a backhand through the five-hole of Bobrovsky. Jacob Josefson then tipped in a goal off a slap shot by Greene. Near the end of the second, Travis Zajac deposited a goal on the power play off a PA Parenteau shot, and it was 3-0. It looked like the Blue Jackets had scored their first goal on a Boone Jenner deflection, but the goal was called back on goaltender interference. The Blue Jackets did actually score their first goal on a Matt Calvert shorthanded goal, but Taylor Hall then scored with an empty net, and Seth Helgeson concluded the perfect night with his first career NHL Goal. My recap is here.
The Last Sabres Game: Buffalo beat Ottawa 4-0, with Robin Lehner making 37 saves on his shutout. The goals were scored by Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, and Marcus Foligno. Okposo’s goal came on a solo effort, in which he stickhandled by multiple Ottawa defenders and backhanded it over Condon’s glove for a 1-0 lead. O’Reilly’s goal was a tip-in from a Ristolainen shot. Reinhart’s goal came off his own rebound, and Foligno scored off a turnover. The recap by Andy Boron is here.
The Last Devils-Sabres Game: The Devils won 4-2 back on the 12th of November. Kyle Quincey, Nick Lappin, Kyle Palmieri and John Moore had the goals. At this time, the Devils had won four straight, and was 8-3-3. They were playing well, and looked primed for a playoffs spot. How quickly that changed, however. November and December hit hard, and things went terribly.
On the Sabres side, Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Dmitry Kulikov are all back, with Zach Bogosian as a maybe. All four are top players for the Sabres, so this is a completely different team. The Devils can not play the same as they did before, as the Sabres now have two of their first line back and at least one of their first pairing defenseman. The Sabres are one of the more streaky teams in the NHL, with multiple strings of two-three wins followed by two or more losses.
The Goal: Cycle the puck when possessing the puck, don’t take stupid penalties, and don’t let the other team back into the game. The past two games, the Devils allowed consistent pressure throughout the first. In the Blue Jackets game, it didn’t hurt them due to Schneider’s heroics. In the Flames game, the Flames tied it and ended up winning in OT. A strong second period by the Devils was wasted in that game, and the Devils lost a valuable point because of that.
A line to exploit? According to Left Wing Lock, the Sabres have two lines and then a lot of shuffling of Ryan O’Reilly. Corsi-wise, the Sabres only have 3 forwards (Carrier, Moulson, O’Reilly) who consistently get over 50.0%. The line of Kane-Girgensons-Gionta appears to be the weakest in terms of Corsi, with CF%’s of 46.7, 47.6, and 43.2 (!) from left to right.
Goaltending: Schneider vs. Lehner, I’m guessing? Robin Lehner, the former Ottawa Senators top prospect, has played well for Buffalo in his limited appearances. This year, he was finally the starter, and has recorded a 13-13-6 record with a .923 save percentage. In his last five, he has a .933 save percentage, though that has two unsightly performances in which he gave up four or more goals. Buffalo consistently gives up 30+ shots a game, and are actually the highest in shots allowed with 33.6 shots given up a game. On the other hand, the Devils shoot the least amount of shots per game, with 27.1, so this game really is a mixed bag in terms of expectations.
Schneider, as we know by now, has been his usual self as of late. Will he get the start tonight? I don’t know if Hynes would start Schneider for three games in four nights. His stats over the past five games have been average, but he’s performed much better than that.
In case he starts, I’ll mention Keith Kinkaid really quickly. He’s been really good all season, with a 6-6-2 record and a .920 save percentage. In his past five games, he has a .927 save percentage, and he’s been a solid of a backup as you get.
Final Thoughts: Will Devante Smith-Pelly get into a game today? He hasn’t played since the 31st of January, and for good reason. He’s been struggling all year, and has only 7 points in 43 games after recording 13 in 18 with the Devils last year. His shooting percentage last year was an unreasonably high 23.8 shooting percentage, but this year it’s a miniscule 3.8%. I’m not advocating playing him, as he hasn’t impressed this year, but I don’t think he’s as bad as he seems.
In other news, Karl Stollery was sent down to the AHL today. He started off decently, but then started struggling recently. It’s relatively minor news, and he’s been scratched in favor of Seth Helgeson in the past two games.
Your Opinion: Sorry for the short preview, but the Super Bowl was tonight, so I was a bit distracted. Let me know what you guys think about this game, and if you think we should keep the same lines or give a player like Devante Smith-Pelly a chance. Who would you like to see score for the Devils? Who do you think will win this game? Take care and have a good day.