The Matchup: New Jersey Devils (28-39-9) vs. the Buffalo Sabres (31-34-9)
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: MSG+
Return of the Devil(s): Six Devils returned last game against Arizona. 1st line forwards Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri, speedy winger Miles Wood, young forward John Quenneville and top four defenseman Mirco Mueller and Sami Vatanen all returned, helping the Devils to a 2-1 shootout win. The lone Devils goal was scored by Drew Stafford, with assists from Wood and Pavel Zacha. With those players back, this team looked and played more like a NHL team than their teams of the past few weeks.
After the game, the Devils assigned Joey Anderson, Blake Pietila, John Quenneville, Eric Tangradi and Josh Jacobs back down to Binghampton to get more playing time, which players like Anderson, Quenneville and Jacobs could probably use for development-sake.
Again, there’s nothing else to play for team-wise, so all we can do as fans is root for career highlights. Nico Hischier is three goals away from his first 20 goal season, which is unlikely but possible. Same can be said for Travis Zajac, though it wouldn’t be his first. Michael McLeod, while he has shown flashes of skill, is still searching for his first NHL goal and his struggling to produce with only 1 assist in 15 games. There are still some things to cheer for, no matter how little they may be.
Fallen Warriors: For a while, the Sabres looked set to make the playoffs for the first time in the Jack Eichel era. As recently as 10 games ago, they were sitting with a 30-26-8 record, by no means good but enough to sit in the race. They then proceeded to go 1-8-1 in their last 10 and mathematically eliminate themselves from playoff contention. This was a team that just months ago looked set to make the playoffs, and were contending for a top spot in the Eastern Conference. Jack Eichel has done all he can, with 26 goals and 49 assists in 69 games, good for a point per game pace. Jeff Skinner, while sitting at 37 goals on the season, has scored one goal in 17 games, showing the inconsistency that’s plagued him in the past. Sam Reinhart like-wise has struggled in March, scoring his first goal in 12 games two days ago against the Canadiens. If Skinner and Reinhart aren’t scoring, the Sabres don’t have much else to back them up. Rookie sensation Rasmus Dahlin has enjoyed a strong rookie season, but that can’t counteract a Rasmus Ristolainen regression where he has recorded an terrifying -42 +/-. While +/- is often argued as not being indicative of a player’s performance, a -42 rating shows something is going wrong. The team’s acquisition of Brandom Montour has proved solid, but not enough, as the defenseman has 7 points in 12 games, including two goals. The main issue the Sabres have is goaltending, similar to the Devils before the start of Mackenzie Blackwood. Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have been nothing short of awful. They serve as somewhat of a 1a/1b tendem, but both are equally awful. Carter Hutton, after three solid seasons as a Blues/Predators backup, has shown why he hasn’t been trusted with a heavier workload. He is 17-22-5 with a .909 save percentage. Meanwhile, Linus Ullmark has a 14-12-4 record, with a .906 save percentage. Because of this, and the cold play of Skinner and Reinhart highlighting the Sabres lack of depth, the Sabres sit 22nd and 23rd respectably in offense and defense as a team. They were a team that faked it while they could, but whose flaws have been very evident in the past two months.
Barring any other injured players coming back, I’d expect the Devils lineup to look like this
Agostino - Hischier - Palmieri (Oh how good it feels to have a semi-quality first line)
Coleman - Zajac - Noesen
Wood - Zacha - Stafford
Gabriel - Rooney - McLeod
Mueller - Vatanen
Greene - Severson
Santini - Carrick
Schneider will probably start, as the Devils are currently rotating goalies
I think the Sabres lineup will look like this
Skinner - Eichel - Reinhart
Sheary - Rodrigues - Nylander
Sobotka - Mittelstadt - Thompson
Girgensons - Larsson - Okposo
Bogosian - Ristolainen
Dahlin - Montour
Scandella - Nelson
I would guess Hutton starts against the Devils, but I don’t know
Your Thoughts: Who will win? Who will score? Let me know in the comments below, and take care.