The Devils followed up their rough shootout loss last night to Winnipeg with a trip to Buffalo and a matchup with the Sabres.
Unfortunately, this one went about as well as last night’s collapse. The Devils fell 7-2.
First, some good news. Cory Schneider left last night’s game with “lower body cramping” according to the team. He made the trip to Western New York and did backup Mackenzie Blackwood, who got his first start of the season tonight.
One roster change saw John Hayden out and Jesper Boqvist in. This was Boqvist’s NHL debut and he ended a minus-1 with a shot on goal, two blocks and a takeaway in 12:16 of ice time.
This was the Sabres’ home opener and they celebrated the opening of their 50th season. They had most of their former captains in attendance, including former Devils player Brian Gionta and former Devils coach Mike Foligno. The Sabres were also in their special 50th anniversary third jerseys, so the Devils played the game in their home reds.
Victor Olofsson got the scoring started on the power play for the Sabres at 2:56 of the first period. Will Butcher had gone off for holding to set that up. Olofsson took a no-look pass from Jack Eichel and shot from the far faceoff circle to make it 1-0 Buffalo. Rasmus Dahlin had the secondary assist.
The second goal of the game also came on the power play for Buffalo, this time off the stick of Eichel. Blake Coleman had gone off for holding to set this up. This was a weird one as Blackwood was trying to dive in front of himself and cover the puck up and just missed it with his glove. It went right to Eichel in front of the net and he potted it to make it 2-0. Jeff Skinner had the lone assist on this goal which came 17:26 into the first.
The Devils finally got on the board just 37 seconds into the second period. Nico Hischier did a good job protecting the puck behind the net and getting it to Taylor Hall in the near corner. He then set up Kyle Palmieri for a one-timer from the near circle. He scored and cut the Buffalo lead in half to 2-1. Nico’s assist gave him 100 NHL points in his young career. Congratulations to him on that milestone.
But the Sabres came back and began to pile it on starting at 2:49 when Kyle Okposo redirected a Dahlin shot by Blackwood to make it 3-1. Zemgus Girgensons had the secondary assist on the goal.
Midway through the second period, Blackwood stopped Eichel on a breakaway with a nice glove save. However, he could not stop Skinner at 8:57 when he scored off a 3-on-2 odd man rush. Marcus Johansson set him up and Marco Scandella had the secondary assist on the goal that made it 4-1.
Olofsson scored his second of the night unassisted at 13:33 on the power play to make it 5-1. Coleman was off for tripping to set this man advantage up. The goal came when Olofsson took a shot from the far circle and the rebound came right back to him in the same exact spot. He did not move, but shot on the second chance and scored.
The Sabres’ power play was effective tonight, going 3-for-4 with nine shots. The Devils were not as effective, going 0-for-2 with five shots. The Devils still have not scored a power play goal this season.
Following this goal, Jake McCabe laid a big hit on Taylor Hall, shaking him up and sending him down the tunnel. Wayne Simmonds would take exception to the hit, on which McCabe did leave his feet briefly. Simmonds would go after McCabe and a melee would ensue. In the end, Simmonds got a double minor for roughing and a ten-minute misconduct, McCabe got two minutes for roughing and PK Subban and Okposo each got misconduct penalties. Because of the double minor to Simmonds, Buffalo got a power play out of the deal but they did not score on it. Hall would return, go down the tunnel again for concussion protocol and then return permanently for the third period.
The Devils got back on the board just 58 seconds into the third when Coleman made a nice backhand pass to Travis Zajac and he whipped it by Buffalo goaltender Carter Hutton using the Sabres defender as a screen. That goal made it 5-2 Sabres. Damon Severson had the secondary assist on Zajac’s first of the season.
But that Devils comeback was short-lived due to two goals by Sam Reinhart. His first came almost three minutes after the Zajac goal at 3:56 when McCabe went point-to-point with Reinhart, who shot and beat Blackwood glove side. Rasmus Ristolainen had the other assist on the goal. It was now 6-2 Sabres.
Reinhart struck for a second time unassisted at 16:16 of the third when he stole the puck from Subban at the Buffalo blueline and was off on a breakaway. He roofed the puck over Blackwood’s shoulder to make it 7-2, which was our final.
Blackwood ended up stopping 29 of the Sabres’ 36 shots on net for an .806 save percentage while Hutton was 18-for-20 for a .900 save percentage.
The Devils were again good in the faceoff circle, winning 51-percent of the game’s draws. They were, however, outhit 14-11. The Devils had one more blocked shot at 11 to Buffalo’s ten and each team had seven giveaways.
The individual leaders for the Devils saw Andy Greene lead everyone in ice time with 20:30 (including 3:56 on the penalty kill) while Zajac led the forwards with 17:55 (2:04 on the power play and 2:59 shorthanded). Hall and Palmieri each had three shots on goal to lead there, Hall, Coleman and Sami Vatanen led in hits with two apiece. Boqvist, Greene, Mirco Mueller and Vatanen led in blocks with two each and Zajac, Pavel Zacha and Boqvist each had a takeaway to lead in that category.
Next up, the Devils travel down the Turnpike to Philly on Wednesday for their first meeting of the year with the Flyers. That game will be telecast on NBCSN and is at 7:30 PM. We will see you then.