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Devils Prospects’ Comeback Begins Too Late, Falling to Sabres 6-4

It was too little, too late, as six consecutive Sabres goals was followed by four goals by the Devils in the latter half of the game.

First Period: The Buffalo Sabres won the first draw, and were able to take it into the zone and get a shot from the blue line that was deflected out of play. Senn was able to make two stops off the offensive zone draw before Kyle Olson put in a rebound. 1-0, Sabres.

After the goal, the Devils were able to get the puck into the Sabres’ defensive zone, and Devils were doing a good job keeping possession before Graeme Clarke took a penalty for an illegal hit near the boards. Blake Speers, Yegor Sharangovich, Xavier Bernard, and Michael Vukojevic started the kill. The Sabres sent a shot wide and muddled around with the puck before the Devils got an early successful kill. Mikhail Maltsev and Brandon Gignac came on as the second forward unit, and were able to keep the puck in the Sabres’ defensive zone for a bit before Dylan Cozens led the Sabres up the ice on a rush that was turned aside by Senn, before the Devils got a shorthanded chance due to a Sabre-referee collision at the blueline. Not much else happened on the Sabres power play, as Groleau blocked a slap shot from the circle at the end.

The Devils were able to apply more pressure to the Sabres after the kill, but a sweet flip pass from the Sabres’ defensive zone to the far blue line created a two-on-one that resulted in a goal for the Sabres by Victor Olofsson. 2-0 on seven shots for the Sabres in five minutes.

Michael McLeod and Joey Anderson both got some good offensive zone time, with their line generating three shots (one with a screen) on their shift shortly after the Sabres’ second goal. Hughes then failed to generate zone time as his pass was intercepted above the circles, but Jesper Boqvist successfully stripped an opposing player of the puck and was able to get Ty Smith a shot on goal that was stopped. Smith was stripped of the puck off the following draw, which led to an odd-man chance that was turned away by Senn.

Bobby Macintyre made a great play with nine minutes to go with a cross-crease pass that was shot just wide of Senn’s net. After the Devils were able to move the puck the other way, Vukojevic was all alone off a pass from Hughes, but his screened shot didn’t find a hole. The Devils then fell behind another rush which was only saved by a desperate glove save by Senn.

Studenic had an opportunity to set up Brandon Gignac with under seven minutes left in the period, but the puck slipped past Gignac, who was wide open in the inner circle to the right of Buffalo’s goal.

The Sabres made it 3-0 on their 12th shot of the period on another odd-man opportunity. The shot was above Senn’s shoulder, by Andrew Oglevie. With four minutes and 30 seconds remaining, Hughes got a hard wrist shot on goal that was fought off. The Devils got a power play with a few minutes remaining in the period. Jack Hughes, Nathan Bastian, Marian Studenic, Ty Smith, and Jesper Boqvist took the ice for the man-advantage. The Sabres got an early clear, and Maltsev took a centering try on the re-entry that was steered off by Jacob Bryson. Jack Hughes created the first chance of the power play, getting a nice shot off the shoulder, and he collected the rebound and flipped the puck in front of the net - but it was frozen before a Devil could jump on it.

With the power play over, the Sabres drew another penalty as Blake Speers took a tripping call from behind in the defensive zone. I thought he just pushed the opponent down from behind, but the Sabres got two minutes for it.

In the final minute of play, Vukojevic was able to push Cozens off on a rush and then intercepted a pass in the neutral zone as the Sabres reset, but could not get a chance on goal. At the very end of the period, the Sabres got one last slap shot off, but it went way wide and the first intermission came with a score of 3-0, Sabres. The shots were 13-9, Buffalo.

Shero Interview; first intermission: Ray Shero noted the chaotic nature of the first period, blaming the score on defensive breakdowns. For a crop of mostly large, defensive-minded defensemen, this was a considerably poor start for them. Shero did not seem very concerned though, talking at length about the growth of the amateur scouting staff and that he does not believe these games mean much other than getting to see a glimpse of what players might be capable of. The final question was about restricted free agents and Taylor Hall, but Shero said that there was no news on the Hall front. “Taylor has had one goal, to get healthy again, and that’s what he’s done...We’re obviously a better team with him.”

Second Period: The second period started with the Devils on the kill for slightly less than a minute. Play was frozen right after the draw for offsides, and the Sabres won the second draw as well, but the Devils’ kill managed to take possession and flip the puck into the other end. McLeod made a great strip play, and passed it to Blake Speers out of the box, but it was blockered into the corner. On the next re-entry, Hughes tried to go five hole on Jonas Johansson, and took a bit of a low hit as he did so.

Colby Sissons fell on his back as Colton White passed to him off a clear, but the Sabres were unable to make an opportunity from it Hughes weaved through the Sabres blueline and backhanded a pass, but the Sabres stood just strong enough to fight the opportunity off. Right after, Groleau lost control to Olofsson in the Devils’ defensive zone, but the puck went off the post.

Play slowed down after that, with the Devils and Sabres knocking each other back and forth before McLeod threw a big hit that nearly caused a fight. After an offsides call, Arttu Ruostalainen took a shot from the circle that was kicked back to him, and he easily lifted the puck over Senn to make it 4-0.

The Devils won two straight faceoffs in the offensive zone with 13 minutes to go, and Maltsev got a backhanded shot in the slot that was gloved by Johansson. On the other end, Colton White was able to keep possession as he was knocked from behind, not losing his edge versus a smaller player. The puck mostly remained in the Devils’ defensive end, but the Sabres were not getting much possession. However, once the Devils had a chance to make a counterattack, they iced the puck and had to go back to the defensive zone. Boqvist blocked a shot in the high slot by Olofsson, but the Devils were again unable to jump on the loose puck.

The Devils drew a penalty and got six men on the ice, but Hughes lost the puck to Dylan Cozens and were unable to make use of the extra attacker time. Cozens was off for hooking.

Jesper Boqvist steered around a hip check by Casey Fitzgerald and generated zone time for the Devils, but a pass to Smith at the blueline was kicked out by a Sabre.

Colton White took a shot from the blueline that was tipped by Michael McLeod and kicked out by Jonas Johansson. It was some good hand-eye coordination for McLeod, who I would not have taken for a net-front presence on the power play. Right after the end of the power play, the Devils took a penalty for interference, with Michael Vukojevic going off.

Sharangovich made a failed clearing attempt which led to an open slap shot attempt for the Sabres, which wound around to Dylan Cozens. Cozens moved in with ease and wristed a shot from the circle that went past Senn. Right after the fifth, Senn let in another goal. The puck was sent in front for a backhand chance by Olofsson, and the Sabres retained possession and William Borgen took a one-timer in the circle that slipped through Senn. With the game 6-0, Mark Dennehy called timeout. Two goals in 29 seconds. After an icing, Studenic zoomed around some Sabres and created a rebound opportunity that was taken by the Sabres. This game was reeking of a lack of chemistry leading to the Devils having to rely on individual effort that was not being met with sufficient structure.

The Sabres, however, took another penalty as Jacob Bryson went off for hooking. Smith took an early wrist shot with Bastian in front, but Johansson made the stop. With a minute to go in the power play, after some failed opportunities and clears, Jesper Boqvist lost the puck, but Jack Hughes picked off the clearance attempt and took a snapshot that went past Johansson for the first Devils goal of the game.

With three minutes remaining in the period, the Devils started to play with a little more confidence. Graeme Clarke intercepted a flipped clearance and took a shot from the edge of the inner circle that went off the crossbar. After the faceoff, Anderson made a play to Clarke right in front that was shot too high, and it went out of play. Following that, the Devils went back on the power play.

Not much was going well early in the power play, until Studenic successfully gained the zone and sent the puck around. White got the puck at the blueline and sent the puck to Hughes, who centered it in front and generated an opportunity that was steered wide by Johansson. Hughes sauced a pass to Boqvist, but Boqvist fanned on it before the power play ended. Nothing else happened as play ended with some back-and-forth in the neutral zone.

John Hynes Interview; second intermission: Hynes noted the lack of systematic play in these tournaments and said that he views the games as a way of evaluating individual talent alone. “The good thing about this training camp is that players are going to decide where they play, by how they play.” I hope his judgement ends up being as cold as he indicates it will be.

Third Period: With the third period set to begin, Akira Schmid took over in net. Nathan Bastian threw a huge check behind the net right out of the gate, which was pretty good to see. The Devils dearly needed to assert themselves, and some of them seemed committed to doing that. My stream soon after became blurry and the audio began cutting out, which was fun to deal with.

After a save by Schmid, Michael Vukojecvic and Patar dropped the gloves, and both threw pretty heavy shots at each other before Matej Patar fell on top of Vukojevic. On the following draw, the Sabres took the puck and got a shot on a centering attempt that was steered wide by Schmid. Hughes won a draw on the other end that was knocked out by the Sabres, and Hughes lost an edge form a slash that went uncalled, which led to a shot that went wide for the Sabres. On the counterattack, Boqvist avoided a check on the boards and freed himself for a wide open shot that he put past Johansson. 6-2.

Behind the play not long after the goal, Sissons and Ruostalainen took roughing calls that and were given coincidental minors. The game remained five-on-five, regardless. For a moment with about 13 minutes to go, my stream went dead before returning with working audio. Good news for me in a chaotic game. Blake Speers made a play to Groleau, who centered the puck for a redirection that was smothered by Johansson. In the play that followed, Gignac had the puck on the boards, which was kicked out and cleared by the Sabres. In the neutral zone, Fitzgerald threw an open ice check at Studenic that was correctly not answered by any roughing by the Devils. After play settled down once more, Colton White fired a puck in for the Devils to change, but the Sabres sent the puck back off the glass for Olofsson, who showed off his speed getting to the loose puck and getting off a tough shot that was caught between Schmid’s arm and body.

The Devils took another penalty for holding about midway through the period, with Ty Smith going off. The Sabres did very little on the powerplay, consistently failing to maintain possession into their offensive zone. Much of the zone time they did create was spent kicking the puck around the boards, before Smith came out of the box and play was stopped at five-on-five.

With just over six minutes remaining, Jack Hughes and his line were able to forecheck the Sabres into backing up behind their own net, and icing the puck to create an offensive zone draw for Hughes. Ty Smith made a spin move off the draw, but his shot was deflected by a stick and out of play.

The Sabres won the second draw, and rushed up the ice. Boqvist stayed with his man, and made a pass go wide, leading to the Devils pushing the puck out as the Sabres tried setting up. Play was blown dead with about five minutes, and the Devils go an offensive zone draw out of it. A shot was taken from the blueline, which slipped through. 6-3, the goal by Colton White from Mitch Hoelscher and Graeme Clarke with four minutes remaining. On the following play, Schmid made a diving play to save a puck that rebounded off the boards to the front of the net.

With three minutes left, Gignac took the ice through the neutral zone but his pass target loss an edge and the Sabres generated a chance the other way. Fitzgerald tried to jam it through but Schmid made the stop. After the Devils gained possession, the Sabres took a penalty and touched the puck as Bastian and Cozens went at it. They were sent to the box, and Fitzgerald soon followed. So, the Devils went back to the power play with just over two minutes to play.

Hughes made a sweet cross-ice pass to Boqvist, which was just stopped by Johansson. Later in the power play, Ty Smith kept the puck alive with a stop on one-knee, creating a couple shots for the Devils before Johansson knocked a puck out of play.

White took the puck with a minute remaining off the draw, and threw the pcuk to Joey Anderson, who took a wide-open wrist shot from the right circle that made its way through Johansson to make it 6-4. After the goal, Schmid left his net and McLeod and Smith played catch before Smith took a shot that go deflected wide. No more chances were taken by either team, and the clock ran out as the Devils took too long to make the game competitive.

Chippy, Chippy Comeback: The Devils looked terrible for the first half of the game. But in the span of the final 25 minutes or so, they were able to make it a game. The individual efforts started clicking together - especially between Jack Hughes and Jesper Boqvist. There were a few almost-fights, and one real one involving Michael Vukojevic, who fought a notably pesty Matej Pekar. If either player gets into another fight for the remainder of the tournament, they will be disqualified for its remainder, per the Prospect’s Challenge stipulations. On the bright side, Vukojevic established himself as a very active player who found a way to get into the middle of the action on both ends of the ice.

Sour Night for Senn, Solid Night for Schmid: Gilles Senn, the elder Swiss goaltender in the Devils’ pipeline, had a bad outing. His struggles early were mostly due to an utter lack of communication and structure from the Devils’ defense, but as the Devils became more competitive, Senn still gave the Sabres holes to shoot at. Schmid however, showed his capability, keeping the Devils comeback alive all the way to the end, including a masterful diving stop. One game is not everything, and these players haven’t played much together - but this might knock expectations down a bit for Senn.

Hughes! Boqvist!: Hughes looked about twice as skilled as anyone else on the ice during the game, and Boqvist looked like a man among boys. Hughes was able to avoid defenders with shiftiness that should look familiar to anyone who has watched Hischier and Bratt play the last two years. Boqvist looked to me like the way I would expect Zacha to play - using his superior size and puck-handling to shield himself from hits, making plays from the boards and displaying his ability to make a quick cut towards the center of the ice right when he wants to get a shot on goal. Grade A efforts from them tonight.

What Took so Long, Dennehy?: Mark Dennehy did use his timeout to stop the bleeding tonight, as a coach should when a team puts up a large number of consecutive goals on the board. However, he waited until that number was a nigh impossible to overcome six. If Dennehy ever wants to get a shot in the NHL, he’s going to have to be able to read a game better, and try to stop the momentum of the other team earlier so his team does not become demoralized.

Credit to the Devils for not Acting Demoralized: There’s no other way to put it - the Devils’ prospects seemed to understand this is their time to put on a show for the team brass, and did not quit even when they were six goals down. From previous games I have covered, the NHL Devils rarely show that sort of nerve when they get beaten down to an early seemingly-insurmountable lead. Perhaps that has to do with living to fight another day, but I would love to see the energy I saw from the Devils’ young players in the second half of tonight’s game on the NHL roster in the near future.

My Three Stars for the Devils: The third star to Michael Vukojevic, who put in a 100% effort from start to finish. He might not be skilled as the top-tier Devils prospects, but he put himself on my radar tonight for his two-way promise. For his size, he has excellent speed - if he can work on his shot, he will be a force to be reckoned with. The second star is to Jesper Boqvist, who was able to put on a show on the right of Jack Hughes - but not just because of the star power at center. He made opposition miss multiple times, and I think there is a strong case to play him next to the best Devil of the night, Jack Hughes. Jack was pretty hard to stop, though he made some mistakes with the puck. That’s the price for someone trying to make moves every time they’re on the ice, but it worked most of the time. If the Devils had practiced together at all, he might have had two or three assists tonight. He should have.

Your Thoughts: If you could watch, who did you enjoy seeing? If you couldn’t, what do you make of what highlights and synopsis there has been? Do you think the Devils coaching staff could have prepared them better? Do you think it’s a waste of time to care about coaching in a pre-preseason game? Who are you excited to watch (or hear and read about) going forward? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

For All About the Jersey (@AAtJerseyBlog), this is Chris, and I hope everyone has a good evening.