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Game Preview #77: New Jersey Devils vs. Buffalo Sabres

After a big win in Vegas in cap off a successful road trip, the Devils return home for a three-game homestand. First things first, they host the Buffalo Sabres with a chance to complete a season series sweep.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New Jersey Devils
Tage Thompson has been one of the bright spots for the Sabres this season.
Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (27-42-7, 61 points) host the Buffalo Sabres (29-38-11, 69 points). SB Nation Blog: Die By The Blade

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through NHL.com or the SiriusXM app)

The last Devils game

The Devils defeated the Vegas Golden Knights Monday night by a score of 3-2, capping off a successful Western road trip with a 3-1-1 record. They won in large part because of the brilliance of Andrew Hammond in net, as I noted in my recap.

The last Sabres game(s)

The Sabres swept a home-and-home against the Philadelphia Flyers this past weekend, winning 4-3 Saturday and 5-3 Sunday.

Tage Thompson, the older brother of Devils prospect Tyce Thompson, continued his breakout season with three goals over the two games and is now up to 36 goals and 27 assists on the year. Victor Olofsson added a pair of goals in Sunday’s win to set a new career high in points with 44.

The last Devils-Sabres game(s)

This is the third and final meeting between the teams this season, as the Devils defeated the Sabres 2-1 in overtime way back on October 23rd and again by a score of 4-3 on December 29th.

Chris had the recap of the 2-1 OT win, which was most notable for a brilliant early season outing by Nico Daws in his NHL debut. Chris also broke down the 4-3 win which was notable for a big performance by the Devils then-second line of Yegor Sharangovich-Jack Hughes-Jesper Bratt. Hughes and Bratt each had a goal and two assists while Yegor Sharangovich scored what was eventually the game winning goal with 13:10 to go. The Devils also lifted up Mackenzie Blackwood, who was in the midst of a prolonged slump, to get him a rare win this season.

Tonight’s Lineups?

The Devils skated the lineup you see below vs. Vegas.

After Wednesday’s practice, the Devils announced a roster move, recalling Nikita Okhotiuk and sending Nico Daws to Utica. They also announced separately that they had assigned AJ Greer to Utica.

Okhotiuk was the Devils second round pick, 61st overall, back in the 2019 Entry Draft. You can read more about his particular skillset and what he brings to the table here in John’s reaction to the pick.

After playing in the AHL the last two seasons, Okhotiuk has 91 games worth of pro experience under his belt. Clearly, the Devils liked something in his development that they decided he earned a late-season audition, even if its only for a game or two.

Nico Daws being sent to Utica is a strong indicator of a few things. One, as Sam Kasan points out, is the Devils want to get Daws reacquainted with his surroundings in Utica as the Comets hopefully begin a deep playoff run soon. With Utica having 4 regular season games remaining, this will give him an opportunity to get some run with Utica before the playoffs begin. The other is that Mackenzie Blackwood is inching closer to a return, although the Devils haven’t confirmed that nor have they activated him off of IR yet. Blackwood traveled with the team and practiced during the long road trip that just concluded, and the Devils have continued to keep the door open in regards to the possibility of him playing before the end of the season.

Jesper Bratt was held out of Wednesday’s practice with a non-COVID illness, although that didn’t seem to stop him for participating in team picture day. Consider him day-to-day.

As for the Sabres.....

Final Thoughts

What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Can the Devils finish the season sweep of the Sabres? Who do you want to see draw into the lineup and get the start in net? What are the keys to the game for you? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!