A disappointing, but promising result. Despite the shootout loss for the Devils, the team and particularly the youngsters played extremely well as they overcame adversity on all sides to make it to the shootout.
The first period saw a lack of opportunities for both sides. Both teams struggled immensely in distributing passes and finding good opportunities, as Jesper Bratt seemed to be the only player actively creating opportunities. There was a huge lull in activity until the 12:44 mark in the 1st, when Andreas Johnsson was called for a “penalty” which made Ken Daneyko question whether it was a penalty or not. Spoiler alert - it wasn’t a penalty. However, the Devils were able to safely kill the penalty, before another series of lull.
At the 7:45 mark, Jesper Bratt used his stickhandling skills to draw a rare double penalty on Eric Staal and Brandon Montour. Somehow, almost nothing came on the 5-on-3 opportunity, but Bratt again was causing chaos when on the ice.
With 1:44 left in the 1st, Nikita Gusev and the Devils had their first real opportunity. Gusev, in a display of excellence, used his strength to knock down the defenseman Henri Jokiharju. He was then able to attempt a five-hole shot on Linus Ullmark, which he had some difficulty stopping but nonetheless did. More inactivity concluded the rest of the period with the score tied at 0’s.
The 2nd period started significantly quicker. The Devils found themselves in penalty trouble early in the period, as Andreas Johnsson was called for holding the stick. Luckily for the Devils, the Sabres had absolutely nothing during that power play, as the best opportunity came shorthanded for the Devils on a Pavel Zacha start. The proceeding play saw the Devils swarm the Sabres, as Ullmark stopped a Jesper Bratt slot shot, before Damon Severson then proceeded to slap a shot off the crossbar. Of note - Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes were reunited to start the 2nd period.
Unfortunately for the Devils - they were caught in an odd-man situation a few minutes later. Jack Hughes, having crashed into the Sabres net, found himself stuck there for a few moments. As this occurred, the Devils decided to make a line-change, which led to a transition opportunity. Old friend Taylor Hall found Eric Staal in the open slot, who was able to snipe a shot past Wedgewood, off the post and into the net for the 1-0 Sabres lead.
The Devils, looking to comeback and grow momentum, found themselves with a power play as a result of a Taylor Hall holding call. Gusev had a couple of nice shots, which were stopped by Ullmark, but nothing occurred. Following this, Ristolainen sent a shot from the point which tipped off of Eric Staal’s high stick and off the post.
Additional opportunities came from the Hughes line, before Eric Staal was called for hooking Damon Severson with under two minutes to go.
This time, the Devils would not let the power-play go to waste. Good puck movement from the blue line led to an opening for a Ty Smith slapshot. Miles Wood’s frame completely screened Ullmark, resulting in the shot sneaking in through the left side and a 1-1 time to close the period.
The 3rd period started extremely quickly and productively for the Devils. Yet again, it was the Jack Hughes line doing the brunt of the creativity. Andreas Johnsson was the sniper for this goal, as he used Brandon Montour as a partial screen snap a puck on the top-right corner for his first Devils goal! In recent games, Johnsson has looked significantly better while on the ice and it’s nice to see him rewarded for it.
The Sabres responded immediately. Cody Eakin was able to muscle through Tennyson like he wasn’t even there, before also phasing through Bastian to find Riederfor the wrist shot, for another tie-game.
The Hughes line was then sent to do damage, where the Bratt, Johnson and Hughes trio connected while on the odd-man rush. Hughes had an opportunity where he saw some open ice, but he was completely robbed by Ullmark. The Devils were able to draw a delay of game call on the opportunity.
The Devils power-play looked much better, as the Devils zipped passes through the ice for nice shot opportunities throughout the ice from Subban, Smith, Severson and Zacha. From there on it, it was fast-paced play before the 10 minute point of the game - when the phantom call happened.
At this point in the game, Ty Smith was called for hooking. There was no hooking call. At all. The proceeding power play saw Wedgewood find himself screened and strangely out of position, which Olofsson had an easy shot for a 3-2 lead. I don’t know why Wedgewood positioned himself like that. I don’t know what the refs are doing. What I will say at this point is that the calls are becoming completely egregious - almost as if the referees are mocking the Devils. But, we live in a sports environment where if a coach even DARES to criticize or question the referees in any method, they will be fined. Unbelievable. Oh - Jack Hughes was also high-sticked a few minutes later, which the referees missed.
While Devils fans were still maligning the referees for their selective blindness, the fourth line did their jobs and completely pinned the Sabres in their zone. Off a puck battle in the boards, Janne Kuokkanen was able to find a loose puck and bank the puck off of Ullmark’s shoulder and into the goal for his first NHL goal.
With two minute left in the game, Jake McCabe and the Sabres obtained sustained pressure, where he clanged a shot off the post. The Devils were called for a tripping penalty on Severson, which was actually a good call, to give the Sabres a final penalty shot. For a heart-wrenching final two minutes, the Devils struggled to get the puck out of their zone, leading to a multitude of opportunities for the Sabres. However, the Sabres couldn’t capitalize in the last few moments, resulting in a 3-3 game and a one point for each team.
The Devils killed the last eight seconds to open the overtime to open up some counterplay. Jack Hughes found himself on the right side and lifted a backhand shot with dinged off the crossbar. Then, Palmieri tipped a pass up front from Palmieri, which Ullmark was able to stop and hold to start 3-on-3 play. There were few chances for the rest of the overtime, but Damon Severson was able to find Jesper Bratt on a breakaway which he lost the handle on. With that said, neither team was able to score in the overtime, so on to the shootout the Devils went.
Buffalo went first in the shootout, with captain Jack Eichel taking the shot. While invisible for the game, Eichel was able to clank a shot off the post and past Wedgewood for the shootout lead.
Jesper Bratt then shot for the Devils. He attempted to deke to the left side, but Ullmark refused to bite and followed Bratt throughout the move, stopping the first attempt.
Rasmus Dahlin went next, choosing to shoot a fake-slapshot five hole on Wedgewood. Wedgewood stayed with it the whole time to stop Dahlin.
Gusev went next for the Devils. Gusev also attempted to go five-hole on Ullmark, but was stoped.
Olofsson was the final Sabres shooter. He deked Wedgewood, completely beat Wedgewood, but hit the post to leave fate on Kyle Palmieri’s stick.
Palmieri tried his best to beat Ullmark in his attempt, as he tried to deke Ullmark on the backhand side. However, Palmieri missed the net on his attempt, so the Devils walked away one point short yet again.
Overall, a well-played game by the Devils. The Hughes and McLeod lines played beautifully today, with each line recording a goal for the Devils. Jesper Bratt looks even more elusive than usual, in just his second game back. Kuokkanen and Smith recorded goals for the team, so the youth movement is looking as strong as ever. I even thought Subban played much better in this game.
As for who played poorly, it seems as if Palmieri and Gusev are still struggling through a funk. I don’t question putting Gusev in the shootout - the results spoke for themselves for him. I do question putting Kyle Palmieri in the shootout, as he was never a guy who was expected to bank in those shots on the breakaway.
Wedgewood was pretty bad for the Devils today, especially on the last two goals. While they were well-placed shots off nice passing, I do feel that Wedgewood could have put himself in a better position to stop those shots. In the end though, Wedgewood wasn’t even expected to be the backup for this team, let alone the starter, so we as fans should just be grateful to have points in general.
As for who played awful, let’s start with the referees. Same old missed calls and a disgusting call on Ty Smith. No visible accountability for these mistakes and acknowledgement on these issues masks an issue that exists in all sports.
As for actual play, the Devils still can’t win faceoffs. They lost 39 faceoffs whilst only winning 25, which is absolutely awful. The coaching staff on the Devils realistically needs to devote some practice time only to faceoffs, as faceoff losses can completely sap any momentum in play.
Sharangovich might need some time off just to readjust. While on the ice, he was awful today with a CF of 27%. Similar to a lot of rookies, he might just need some time to readjust mentally and get back into the swing of things. Nick Merkley was also awful today, with a CF of 20%, and as a result was basically scratched for the final periods.
The Game Stats
Congratulations to Janne Kuokkanen for his first NHL goal and Andreas Johnsson for his first Devils goal. In the end, we should be grateful for any point while Blackwood and Dell aren’t on the team. Also, the Devils did play well today.
What are your thoughts? How did you think the players did today? What did you think about the referees? Remember, this is a Devils team that was supposed to struggle and grow, so I think it’s safe to say the Devils are actually outplaying their expectations. Should the Devils chance up the lines (outside of the 1st and 4th lines)? What do Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev need to do to get back into the swing of things? Let me know in the comments below and stay tuned for more Devils hockey tomorrow at the same time!