With the Sabres in town trying to avoid getting sweeped by the Devils on the season, and the Devils on an 8-game home losing streak, the Devils ultimately emerged victorious in a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
In the first, the game was a solid defensive effort by both teams. The only real chance the Sabres had was a Jack Eichel one-timer, which was easily stopped by Schneider. Taylor Hall immediately responded to this, driving the net on the best chance of the opportunity. Ben Lovejoy took a high-sticking penalty, which would end up being the only power-play Buffalo would get all game. The Devils easily killed off that penalty, and no real scoring chances were scored in what would turn out to be a dead first period. The Devils outshot the Sabres 10-6.
The second period was all Devils. The Devils had the first really good chance of the period, when Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri cycled the puck, with Jack Eichel preventing Hall from stuffing the puck into the empty net. Dmitry Kulikov took a tripping penalty, and the Devils had their first power play. Although they didn’t score, the power-play looked good, which foreshadowed what was to come. Palmieri had to chances from his spot, and Zacha then nearly scored from the front of the net. Karl Stollery then delivered a massive hit to Zemgus Girgensons, and the resulting scrum led to a Evander Kane double minor for roughing and a Steven Santini roughing penalty. The Devils capitalized on this power play. Adam Henrique, off some nice passing, banked a pass directed at Parenteau off of Cody Franson and by Lehner, who had been playing really nicely. The Devils continued the pressure after this goal, with a Pavel Zacha-Joe Blandisi two on one which Blandisi couldn’t pull the trigger on. Zacha and Blandisi then had more opportunities for the Devils, but Lehner wouldn’t be stopped. Through two periods, the Devils had outshot the Sabres by 29-17.
In the third, the Sabres tried to respond immediately. Eichel had a chance in the first minute which was stopped by Schneider, and the Sabres looked ready to score. Miles Wood drew a holding penalty, and the Devils power play performed well again but could not score. Then, Tyler Ennis threw a shot from an impossible angle, which Schneider should have saved, and it became a 1-1 game. The Sabres threatened to score again off of a Sam Reinhart tip, but it hit off the left post. Evander Kane then gifted the Devils again, unknowingly striking Hall with a high stick. The Devils capitalized on this power play. Michael Cammalleri took a shot, which bounced off of Lehner’s glove (Was it Henrique?), and right to Zacha. Zacha wristed it by Lehner, and the score was 2-1. The Sabres applied pressure, but it was too little too late for the rest of the game, as the Devils held on and won 2-1.
The Opposition Opinion: Andy Boron wrote a recap here.
Who Played Well: In terms of Corsi, every Devils player not named Ben Lovejoy, Steven Santini and Sergey Kalinin had positive Corsis, with Severson leading the bunch at +15. The usual people played very well for the Devils - Henrique, Palmieri, and Hall led the offensive pressure. The line of Zacha-Josefson-Noesen definitely have chemistry, and mesh well together. Miles Wood used his speed to get shots off, and drew a holding penalty from Dmitry Kulikov. Karl Stollery took Quincey’s injury as redemption opportunity, and played well. The captain played over 26 minutes, and his play was better than in previous games. Joseph Blandisi played like a pest, which is a major positive. Lastly, Michael Cammalleri played a lot better today than he has for the majority of the season, and his shot directly led to Zacha’s goal.
Recovering Power Play: After a string of games without a power play goal, the Devils have now scored on the power play in three consecutive games, and it has looked considerably stronger as well. The Devils had 15 shots on the power play, and at times held the Sabres in their zone for what seemed like the entire power play. Of course, Buffalo is the second worst team in terms of penalty-kill, but the power play still looked really good nonetheless. Zacha in the slot, as opposed to Devante Smith-Pelly (Yikes), has helped improve this power-play, and he now has four power-play goals on the season. Kyle Palmieri has bettered his positioning, and the Devils have been cleaner with their passes and decision making.
Andy Greene and Damon Severson are the more unappreciated parts of this Devils power-play. In this game, they helped allocate the pucks to the right players, and helped keep the puck in the zone. Is it a coincidence that the Devils have scored on the power-play in every game since Greene has been back? Severson may never be the player the Devils thought he would develop into, but he looks worst-case scenario like a solid top-four defenseman. He’s very good when it comes to puck distribution, and his defensive play will only continue to develop as he gets more ice time. He reminds me of Adam Larsson, when he was criticized in his first three seasons in the league. We all know how Adam Larsson has developed.
Sabre Struggles: The Sabres looked lethargic at times, and no player aside from Jack Eichel, Marcus Foligno and Sam Reinhart really stood out to me today. Eichel wasn’t as dominant against the Devils as players like Atkinson and Monahan were in previous games, but he constantly caused the Devils problems. Foligno and Reinhart nearly combined to score a goal for the Sabres, but it hit off the post. Foligno tried to energize the Sabres, but it didn’t appear to work.
Although Tyler Ennis scored the goal, he was pretty invisible the entire game. His Corsi was a -13, which actually rates as the worst Sabres player on the ice. Evander Kane didn’t play terribly, but he’s also known as the King of Stupid Penalties for a reason. He’s gotten over four penalty minutes in each game against the Devils this season, and in this game he gifted the Devils a win with his penalties. Evander Kane is a talented player, but he holds a lot of baggage against him as well.
Agitation: The Devils seemed to agitate the Sabres a good amount tonight, and the Sabres let the Devils know that. Joseph Blandisi delivered a big hit on a Sabre, and Nicolas Deslauriers went after him. Then, Karl Stollery delivered a massive check on Girgensons, which led to the Kane double minor. Meanwhile, whenever the Devils got checked hard, they remained calm. After Josefson’s check from Jake McCabe, the Devils mostly kept their calm and avoided unnecessary penalties. Karl Stollery got retaliation from Girgensons, but the Devils again didn’t do anything. That might’ve been the difference in this game. A pest can be very good for a team - look at what Brad Marchand does for the Bruins. Joseph Blandisi is the Devil that can fill that role perfectly. He threw his body around, and seems to love going after players bigger than him. Although he did get beaten by Deslauriers in the fight, that kind of peskiness by Blandisi is something the Devils sorely need (Although fair credit to Wood for doing that as well).
Lastly: It might’ve been just me, but Seth Helgeson seemed to play with an air of confidence I hadn’t seen before. The stats rate him well for this game, and he kept his calm when pressured by the Sabres. Perhaps he can actually be a solid bottom-pairing defenseman for the Devils.
Your Thoughts?: How did you guys feel about this game? Is there anything you’d like to see improved upon? What are you looking forward to for the next game? Was Zacha’s goal goalie interference on Henrique’s part? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and have a good night!