The New Jersey Devils were off to a nice start, putting the Buffalo Sabres on their heels in the first two and a half minutes. This forced Craig Anderson, the oldest player in the league at 41, to make five early saves. Dawson Mercer very nearly broke the ice just before the five minute mark. He blasted a one-timer from the slot off the post after Jack Hughes sent it from behind the net to Haula at the dot, who slid it across for Mercer. Mercer really uncorked it, and the Buffalo crowd let out a collective sigh of relief. The Devils continued the pressure, with Tatar and Hischier combining for a shot-rebound combo off a breakout turnover that Anderson got low to cover. However, even if they scored there - it seemed like a play where Nico Hischier may have carried the puck on an uncalled offsides that would have given the Devils another goal called back. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Akira Schmid made a great save on Rasmus Dahlin, who dipped to his backhand around Ryan Graves and tried to get it up into the corner. Tomas Tatar then blocked a shot up high to break the pressure for the Devils. Then, following an icing, Erik Haula committed a faceoff violation by hitting the puck back with his hand.
Rasmus Dahlin had an early chance kicked away by Akira Schmid, and Nico Hischier just missed Yegor Sharangovich with a chip up the boards for a shorthanded chance. The Sabres collected the puck and continued to pressure the Devils, but Schmid made a save on their best chance when Skinner made him use his blocker. Otherwise, the Devils did a good job of staying in the lanes to keep them to the perimeter in the first minute or so. Jack Hughes, late on the kill, had a shorthanded chance where he forced Anderson to kick out a backhanded shot.
The fourth line had an excellent shift after the penalty kill that did not really result in much in the way of chances, but they kept the Sabres on for a 52 second shift that resulted in an icing. However, Tomas Tatar took a shot right off the draw that was gloved and frozen by Anderson, which felt like a waste of an opportunity. After play resumed, the Devils seemed to give up a great chance against, but the Sabres knocked down a bouncing puck with a high stick that negated a breakaway that Schmid made a sprawling save on. Still, this whistle was good for the Devils in that the Sabres’ momentum was momentarily quashed.
Nico Hischier had a chance at the end of the first minute when the fourth line broke up the breakout and passed it off for him as they got off to change. Hischier cut to the middle so suddenly that Rasmus Dahlin fell to the ice, which might have even caught Hischier by surprirse as he had more space to move up but shot right off the cut, forcing Anderson to awkwardly clamp the puck to his body with his glove, leaning to his left.
The Devils would not be delayed much longer. Erik Haula stripped the puck on the backcheck, springing a three-man counterattack. Dawson Mercer set up Jack Hughes with a great pass into the one-timer that went far-side past Anderson! 1-0, Devils.
Thankful for Jack Hughes. pic.twitter.com/5oFiiIFrQH— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 26, 2022
The Buffalo Sabres, shortly after, celebrated what they thought was a game-tying goal, but Akira Schmid was pushed into the net by Kyle Okposo, leading the referees to wave off the goal. Buffalo did not challenge, and play quickly resumed.
After the Sabres seemed to be getting frustrated with the Devils’ pressure, the third line got in on the action. Yegor Sharangovich, forechecking, collected a loose puck after Samuelsson slipped to the ice. Sharangovich sent it out front to Jesper Boqvist, who blasted it off Anderson’s shoulder and into the net to make it a 2-0 game!
Boqvist puts the boys up by 2! pic.twitter.com/tSqpZO8gs3— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 26, 2022
On the following shift by the third line, they gave up the passing lane in the middle of the ice as too many Devils shaded toward the bench for a line change, when the Sabres started to counterattack. Girgensons got behind Siegenthaler for a breakaway, and Akira Schmid shut down the play with a right pad save.
Even though the Devils had the better of play for the next several shifts, the Sabres finally capitalized on one of their chances with 5:41 to play in the second period. Viktor Olofsson scored off a pass across on the rush from Casey Mittelstadt, as Haula just couldn’t get in the way of the pass as he raced back. 2-1, Sabres.
After a few hard fought minutes, Nico Hischier led the Devils out of the defensive zone off Bratt’s takeaway following the faceoff. Hischier flipped the puck over to his left to Tomas Tatar, who whipped it low through Anderson’s five hole! 3-1, Devils.
Nothing like a little Tuna the day after Turkey Day pic.twitter.com/nQxpoC6DRP— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 26, 2022
The Devils were rough at the beginning of the third, as Alex Tuch got behind the defense and just sent the puck way wide of net. Jack Quinn then seemed to rifle a shot from a sharp angle off the iron. After an icing kept the Devils’ top pairing on for a long shift, Jack Hughes speedily moved the puck up the ice, dumping it to the corner after coming to a stop for Haula. Haula centered it, but Mercer’s redirection was fought off by Anderson.
The Sabres had another chance to score when they were hounding Schmid for a rebound, with Jost seeming to send the puck off the post at one point. The Devils countered, though, and Jost took a high-sticking penalty for getting up on Sharangovich when he was leving the zone. This was Buffalo’s first penalty of the game.
The power play was uninspiring in the first minute, failing to generate any pressure on Craig Anderson. However, they came up with a huge chance as they were in a partial change, with Hughes and Hischier staying on a bit longer. Hischier sent the puck across on the rush to Miles Wood, whose shot was saved by the stacked pads of Craig Anderson, as he sprawled to his side to make the play. As the power play was ending, Zetterlund had a one-timer chance that he glanced off the outside of the iron.
The Devils largely controlled play after the power play, and Michael McLeod just missed the net when he whiffed on a shot in the low slot, which still went past Anderson. After a few shifts of Devils domination, Rasmus Dahlin made a beautiful move to his backhand, making Akira Schmid spin as he tried to get the puck frozen - but he still made the save as Siegenthaler flung the loose puck immediately down the length of the ice for a faceoff.
Craig Anderson was pulled with 3:25 to play. The Devils’ top line was up against the Sabres’ top line. The Devils were able to lift to center, but the Sabres came back into the zone. Viktor Olofsson was set up for a shot below the faceoff dot, but Schmid stayed with it and got low to smother it in his equipment. After play was frozen, Erik Haula, Miles Wood, and Nathan Bastian came onto the ice. They won the initial draw and forced the Sabres to take the puck from their defensive zone, but they gave up a rush chance that Schmid made a big save on. Nico Hischier’s line came back on following a stoppage, and Nico was pressuring all the way behind the Sabres’ net on the forecheck to delay Buffalo.
The Sabres had another chance for a rebound following a point shot that was seemingly covered by Schmid, who went onto his back. Schmid was shoved into the net, again, as they dug for the loose puck - but the play was blown dead. Tage Thompson was at the side of the net digging for the rebound. Then, with a minute to play, the Sabres were called for icing, bringing Anderson back into the net. Jack Hughes, Nathan Bastian, and Dawson Mercer fought hard to keep the Sabres away from the offensive zone for the rest of the game, even after Anderson was pulled for the final 40 seconds, giving the Devils their 17th win of the season in a 3-1 win.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Die By the Blade.
Peppering the Old Goaltender (Who Actually Did Very Well)
Craig Anderson seemed exhausted at his team’s allowance of so many shots by the third period. It’s a good thing for him that the Sabres had a pretty decent third period in terms of possession and shot share after they had given up 36 shots in the first two periods. Ultimately, Craig Anderson saved 41 of 44 in 56:58 in goal, putting up a great .932 save percentage and 0.81 goals saved above average. You do not see those numbers often when a goalie gives up three goals. Anderson might not have gotten the win, but he definitely deserves a few days of rest from the Buffalo Sabres.
Schmid, Solid as a Rock
This morning, Gerard asked a question about what the Devils should do if Akira Schmid keeps playing well. I suggest you also give that a read after you are done here, as Schmid put up another great performance for the New Jersey Devils. Schmid, as one of the youngest goaltenders in the NHL, stood in stark opposition to his Buffalo counterpart. Ultimately, Schmid’s performance was more remarkable on account of how many shots Buffalo put on him in the second and third periods when play really opened up. In total, he saved 33 of 34 with 27 of those shots coming in the latter two frames. Schmid also saved 2.29 goals above expected to go along with his .971 save percentage. He is now 4-0, with his cool positioning and patient tracking of the puck guiding him to an awesome start to this season.
Stopping Tage Thompson
Tage Thompson has been on an absolute tear recently. In his previous 23 games, Thompson had 12 goals and 11 assists with 72 shots on goal in just 18:36 of ice time per game. The Devils did an excellent job of keeping him off the scoresheet. Thompson was held to three shots, 0.16 ixG, and zero points in 18:37 of ice time. Even though the Sabres were able to generate more zone time with the Skinner-Thompson-Tuch line on the ice, Ryan Graves did a great job of neutralizing Tage Thompson. Graves never let Thompson get too far from him in the defensive zone, and that was a big difference in the game tonight.
I do not think that these lines were quite optimal tonight. Perhaps it was the third period slowdown for the Devils after they had dominated the first 40 minutes - and Boqvist talked about the need for a full 60 in the second intermission - but I only felt like the Hughes line and fourth lines were really clicking all the time tonight. The Hischier and Boqvist lines had great goals, but their general run of play seemed less inspiring than usual, with the third line mostly being cratered aside from their goal. I did not think Jesper Bratt was as natural a stylistic fit for the top line as Zetterlund has been, as well. This is not because of Hischier - but I think Bratt does not go as well with Tatar’s straight-up style. Maybe these are just problems that will iron themselves out with more time together, though.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Did you enjoy the offensive show? How did you feel about the special teams play? How about Akira Schmid? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
And whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading.