Tomorrow kicks off the Devils five day bye week, as each team gets one as per the latest collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA. To paraphrase Taylor Hall, other teams will be winning and accumulating points while the Devils are off, they needed this game tonight.
And they got it, winning 2-1 at Prudential Center over the Buffalo Sabres – their first win on home ice since January 2 against the Bruins.
The Devils’ lineup was once again largely the same, with Karl Stollery in for Kyle Quincey (who is out with an upper body injury) and Devante Smith-Pelly the healthy scratch for the evening. Buffalo was missing Zach Bogosian, William Carrier and Taylor Fedun. Who they were not without tonight was Jack Eichel. The second year superstar missed the first two meetings that the Devils had with the Sabres (both New Jersey wins). The Devils were going for, and got, the season series sweep tonight.
The goaltending matchup featured Robin Lehner for Buffalo, who made 37 saves on 39 Devils shots and a very happy Cory Schneider (the Marblehead, Massachusetts native is a big New England Patriots fan) who made 22 saves on 23 Sabres shots. In a bit of strange trivia, the last time the Devils played after the Pats won the Super Bowl was February 3, 2015 when they faced Ottawa. The score and outcome of that game? The Devils won 2-1. The goaltending matchup? Schneider versus Lehner – who was then playing for the Senators.
Things got off to a chippy start when Joseph Blandisi hit the Sabres’ Tyler Ennis, with what was a clean hit, Nicolas Deslauriers took exception and he and Blandisi dropped the gloves. It was Blandisi’s first NHL fight and, although he did not get the (unofficial) decision, he handled himself well against the bigger and more experienced Deslauriers.
The Devils spent a good portion of the first period in the Buffalo zone, keeping offensive pressure. At one point in the first, for eight minutes, the Sabres did not have a shot on net. Although the Devils had a lot of zone time in the first, they had nothing to show for it on the big board, as they finished the period tied 0-0.
The second period began with a good scoring chance by the Devils when Eichel was able to box out Taylor Hall when Hall had an empty side of the Buffalo net to shoot on. Following that, Jacob Josefson took a nasty hit from Jake McCabe that put him into the stanchion in the glass right near the Devils bench. He would go off and down the tunnel, as it looked pretty bad when his head hit the metal, but he did return later in the second period.
New Jersey finally broke through in the second at 8:46. It was set up when Evander Kane was called for roughing Karl Stollery, putting the Devils on the power play. Michael Cammalleri skated with the puck on the near half wall, giving to Adam Henrique (who is celebrating his 27th birthday today) on the side of the net. Henrique banked the puck off of the skate of Buffalo defenseman Cody Franson and it went in (a move Henrique insists was intentional).
Pavel Zacha had the secondary assist and just like that, the Devils had a 1-0 lead. That goal also gave Henrique the team lead in goals with 15. Henrique also has four goals in the last five games, the only game he has not had a goal was the Columbus game, where he had two assists. The Devils also had their first of two power play goals; the team went 2-for-4 on the power play for the evening while keeping the Sabres 0-for-1, as the Devils did a good job of staying out of the penalty box all night. Lehner would rob Blandisi late in the period with a nice save to keep it 1-0. Lehner had a pretty solid game in the loss.
At the 8:39 mark, Buffalo would tie things up when Tyler Ennis scored his third of the year. He got assists from Kyle Okposo and Justin Falk. The Sabres then nearly took the lead moments later when Marcus Foligno’s shot was tipped in front by Sam Reinhart and hit the post. But it did not go in and the game was still knotted at one.
The game winner was set up when Kane was called for high sticking Hall at the 11:52 mark of the third. On the ensuing power play, Damon Severson slid the puck to Cammalleri at the half wall. He shot and the puck came out to Zacha in front, who swatted at it and found the back of the net. The Sabres immediately challenged from the bench, alleging that Adam Henrique interfered with Lehner, as his stick hit Lehner’s glove, seemingly knocking the puck loose. The referees did not agree, saying that there was no goalie interference and it was a good goal. It was now 2-1 Devils, and that would prove the game winner. Evander Kane was in the box for both of the Devils goals this evening.
Lehner was pulled with about 1:50 left in the game, but Buffalo could not score, despite the Devils constantly icing the puck, not letting their tired defensemen get off of the ice. With repeated face offs in the defensive zone and a tired unit of players on the ice, things looked pretty bad for the Devils. But they got out of it, with Kyle Palmieri blocking one last Buffalo shot in the final seconds.
Now the Devils head into their mandatory five day bye week, where they cannot practice with each other for the five days. New Jersey will reconvene on late afternoon Saturday for a practice and then face the San Jose Sharks at Prudential Center in a 12:30 PM matinee on Sunday, February 12. Right now, with the Devils win and the Flyers loss to St. Louis, the Devils are only three points out of a playoff spot. Did the bye week come at a bad time for the Devils, or will New Jersey pick up where they left off? We will find out the answer to that question on Sunday.