The line of Nate Bastian, Michael McLeod and Miles Wood played a huge role in the Devils’ 5-3 win this afternoon in Buffalo. The Devils end up with three of a possible four points in their two-game series with the Sabres.
The Devils were playing their first back-to-back of the season, having also played a matinee yesterday in Buffalo. The Devils will now play every other day through next Saturday as the schedule starts to heat up a bit.
Today also marked a few roster changes. Connor Carrick was placed in COVID Protocol as his wife was giving birth to a child. Kyle Palmieri was also placed on COVID Protocol. He was a late scratch and it was announced late that he would be on the Protocol list. Also on the COVID list is Sami Vatanen, who just arrived in New Jersey from Finland and is four negative COVID tests from playing. Will Butcher was the lone scratch not on the COVID list.
Because of this, Jesper Boqvist was recalled from Binghamton to play today and forward Mikhail Maltsev made his NHL debut. He finished with a shot on goal, two hits and two takeaways. He was also given the now-customary lone skate on the ice for rookies before the pregame warmups.
Also getting a start today was goaltender Eric Comrie. He made his first start since December 15, 2019 when he was with the Red Wings. He finished the game with a .909 save percentage, making 30 saves on 33 Sabres shots. He stopped eight of their ten power play shots and was 22-for-23 at even strength. Buffalo did not have a shorthanded shot. He got his first NHL win since March 20, 2018.
Facing him was Carter Hutton, who finished with an .889 save percentage. He stopped 32 of the Devils’ 36 shots, turned aside their lone shorthanded shot and made 31 saves on 35 even strength shots. The Devils did not register a power play shot.
The Devils outshot Buffalo, 37 to 33 and had only four turnovers to the Sabres’ ten but struggled in most other categories. They were 0-for-3 on the power play while Buffalo was 50-percent at 2-for-4. The Sabres outhit the Devils, 15-9 and had one more blocked shot at 10-9.
The Devils bookended the first period when Michael McLeod scored 20 seconds in and Andreas Johnsson scored with 17 seconds remaining.
The McLeod goal came when Ryan Murray went D-to-D with PK Subban in the Devils zone. Subban then sent a stretch pass to McLeod, who broke into the Sabres’ end alone and went backhand/forehand on Hutton to beat him and make it 1-0 Devils.
The Johnsson goal came when Jesper Bratt took a shot from the point. The shot was high and bounced in off of Johnsson, credited to him. Ty Smith continued his production by getting awarded the secondary assist on the goal. The assist tied him with Barry Beck for the franchise record for points by a rookie defensemen in their first nine games. Beck played for the team when they were in Denver as the Colorado Rockies. Butcher actually got near the record in 2017-18, his rookie year.
With that, the Devils took a 2-0 lead into the second period. But that would soon evaporate.
Following Pavel Zacha missing a wide-open net midway through the period, the Sabres would cut the lead in half.
It came when Jake McCabe wrapped the puck around the boards in the Devils’ zone. It ended up on the stick of Rasmus Ristolainen. He shot and it was tipped in front and in by Curtis Lazar. That made it 2-1 at the 14:11 mark of the second.
It became 2-2 when Rasmus Dahlin scored 1:12 later on the power play. Victor Olofsson got it to Dahlin, who took a low shot. It was inadvertently put in by Damon Severson as he tried to block the shot. Jack Eichel had the secondary assist. Ristolainen provided a good screen in front to allow the shot to get by Comrie.
Then, the dynamic play of Miles Wood kicked in. Janne Kuokkanen, with seconds remaining in the second, dove through the neutral zone to get a loose puck to Wood. Wood broke in all alone, scoring on his own rebound with 0.6 seconds to go in the second. The goal counted and it was 3-2 Devils as the second intermission came into being.
MSG+ clocked Wood as hitting 19 miles per hour as he sped through the neutral zone and took Kuokkanen’s pass in stride. It was an amazing sight and showed just how valuable Wood’s speed can be for the Devils as an asset.
But, just 3:53 into the third, Ristolainen would tie things again on the power play. Eichel made a cross-zone pass to Olofsson, who shot on Comrie as he was falling down. Ristolainen, once again parked in front of the Devils net, then put the rebound in to tie the game up.
Things were not done in this wild one though.
At the 10:40 mark, McLeod struck again and this was set up by Wood. Behind the net, Wood took a hard check but got the centering pass to McLeod. McLeod got a quick shot off, which Hutton got a piece of, but it trickled by the Sabres’ goaltender to make tit 4-3 Devils.
Wood would add an empty net goal with eight seconds to go in the game. Zacha and Severson had the assists on the capper, giving us our final score of 5-3 Devils.
Severson led all Devils skaters with 22:39 of total ice time while Jack Hughes led the forwards with 18:41.
Wood led the game with three points (two goals and an assist) in taking first start honors. McLeod was second star with two goals and Ristolainen was third star.
Wood led in shots by a wide margin with seven. Maltsev led in hits with two, blocked shots were led by Murray and Subban with two apiece, takeaways by Maltsev with two.
Next up, Tuesday, the Devils travel to Pittsburgh for two with the Penguins. I will see you earlier for that game as my schedule should not get in the way. Until then, stay safe everyone!