With the Buffalo Sabres coming in having lost badly to Our Hated Rivals on Friday, our New Jersey Devils looked to build off of Cory Schneider’s game-saving relief win against Minnesota to hand them their second loss in a row. The Devils would take advantage of said momentum, whereas the Sabres once again just couldn’t get anything going.
The first period would see one of those plays that earlier this year would have put New Jersey in an early 1-0 hole; a miscommunication saw a big breakdown between Schneider and the defense, but thankfully the fluke play did not lead to a fluke goal. The line of Joey Anderson, Kevin Rooney and Kenny Agostino had a few good looks, with Anderson generating some shots on net and honestly looking the best he has since his return from injury.
Schneider would continue to be tested in the first, as he would have to make some big, early saves on Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart among others. The shots were roughly even halfway through the first, but Schneider was being more heavily tested due to the quality of the Sabres shots than his counterpart Carter Hutton was. Speaking of the halfway point of the first, the Devils briefly lost Andy Greene here, as a dump-in attempt hit him in the face.
Greene’s return would come at roughly the same time that the Devils took the first penalty of the game, as Damon Severson took a cross checking penalty that was an iffy call. Rooney was interfered with a few plays prior with no call, but a nudge where the defender went down was apparently enough for two minutes. Luckily the Devils would kill it; Jesper Bratt would break the other way with Greene in the waning seconds, and while they did not convert, Buffalo would take a penalty just a moment after for too many men on the ice.
While the Devils initial PP put some good pressure on the Sabres, it was ultimately fruitless, just as the last minute was for both teams. With each goalie having put a perfect first twenty minutes behind them, both teams would look to break this scoreless tie after intermission.
The second period started with some good pressure by the Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri and Miles Wood trio, and one of the accompanying defenders (Will Butcher) would rifle a puck off the crossbar. After that initial burst, it became the Cory Schneider show for a bit; the Devils peppered a few weak shots on Hutton, but Cory again made big save after big save, including one where he swept a loose puck away from behind himself that had me questioning some of the laws of physics.
The Devils would then break the ice on a nice effort by the same trio that put forth that excellent first minute of the period effort. Zajac would chip the puck into the offensive zone for Palmieri and Wood would jump around Reinhart to create a two on one. Palmieri waited until Wood was almost in the net to make a pass that Miles tapped in to put the Devils on the board...and then he would go crashing into the net anyway.
The officials would even up the “bad call” situation on the night for a hold against Vladimir Sobotka later in the period, but the Devils would cash in to double their lead. Palmieri, Severson and Bratt worked the puck around between themselves for a bit before Palms saw the cross-ice pass open up. He would connect with Bratt who would hammer home a one-timer to give the Devils the 2-0 lead.
The Sabres to their credit did not role over and die; they drew a hooking call with three minutes to go in the middle period and while the Devils would kill it, the ensuing faceoff saw Sam Reinhart one-time a Zach Bogosian pass behind Schneider. Someone on the Devils missed their coverage on the goal, and as aresult, the Devils lead would be 2-1 at the second intermission instead of 2-0.
The third saw the Sabres come on hard looking for an equalizing goal; with the playoff chase still on their mind, points from this contest would be a necessity for them. They could not, however, seem to find an answer for Cory Schneider, as he continued to deny numerous attempts from Buffalo.
Remember how I’ve kept saying Kyle Palmieri’s name? Yeah, going to have to mention him again. The Devils would transition out of the defensive zone with about six minutes to go, and Zajac would find a streaking Palms heading into the Sabres zone. With a good angle to drive the net, Kyle put a sweet wrister over the shoulder of Hutton to give the Devils an insurance goal, pushing the score to 3-1.
Severson would take another somewhat questionable call, this time for tripping (one angle appeared to show that he got Jeff Skinner’s stick and not his skate), and the Devils’ PK rose to the occasion again. The Sabres would pull Hutton for a six on four advantage, but Joey Anderson would almost immediately take the puck and toss it from the Devils’ end into the Sabres empty goal to put Jersey’s Team up 4-1 with just over three minutes left. The final minutes would run off, the Devils would get the two points, and Cory Schneider would get his second W in as many games.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Die by the Blade for a Sabres spin on tonight’s tilt.
The Game Highlights: NHL.com will be bringing the goods shortly.
Advanced Analysis: Tonight saw a game where the numbers didn’t look good after the fact, but context is necessary. The only player to finish above 50% CF was Jersey’s own Kenny Agostino at 61.9%. The important thing to remember is that the Sabres were chasing the Devils’ one goal lead in the third (as well chasing from two down for part of the second) which resulted in play being tilted in their favor. It’s something we’ve seen in close games before when the Devils have trailed heading into the final frame, and heavily out-shot and out-attempted their opponents as a result. The important things to remember tonight are the score and the result folks!
Return of the Brick Wall?: Cory Schneider started tonight’s game, and continued with where he left off against the Wild. He stopped all 15 shots he faced the other night, and tonight kept 34 out of 35 from going in the net. The one shot that did get by him he did not have a chance on, and as stated earlier, someone missed an assignment.
While the Devils are too far gone to make the playoffs this season, if Schneider can continue to keep up this high level of play, he and MacKenzie Blackwood could be poised to make some noise in net for New Jersey next year. For the sake of the franchise we love, let’s hope this is the case.
Assist Statistics: Three different Devils recorded their 20th assist on the season: Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri and Damon Severson. While normally this isn’t much to be celebrated, in a season full of disappointments and injuries, all three of these guys have put together solid statistics and will be part of what the team needs to turn their fortunes around. Zajac in particular should be celebrated, as he gets some of the hardest minutes of any forward on the team (and possibly even in the entire NHL) and has still put up 34 points in spite of those who said his useful days were behind him. Severson meanwhile sits three points shy of tying his career high, and with over 20 games still to play, he should be able to eclipse it.
A Final Thought: I was very happy to see Joey Anderson get the empty net goal; he had his strongest game since his return from injury, and arguably his strongest game of the season tonight. Getting rewarded by having his name entered on the score sheet seemed only fitting.
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils continued their bullying of bubble teams, as they beat the Canes last weekend, the Wild on Friday and tonight the Sabres. While development of young players is certainly important at this point, who’s to say the Devils can’t have some fun by playing spoiler more often? Additionally, Cory Schneider continues to play like the Cory Schneider of old, which could be one of, if not the most important factor for success in future seasons.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the gamethread and thank you all as always for reading.