With 34 games remaining in the next 68 days, the Devils got a few key faces back in the lineup and it paid off as the team snapped a four game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Sabres in Buffalo.
Taylor Hall and Mirco Mueller returned to the lineup as the Devils ran with eleven forwards and seven defensemen. Hall returned to team with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt on the top line. Cory Schneider, who has resumed off-ice workouts, but is not skating yet, and Brian Gibbons remain out. Jimmy Hayes and Steven Santini were the healthy scratches.
Someone else making their return to the lineup was Keith Kinkaid. He mentioned in the pregame that his injury could have been worse than it was. He made 27 saves on 28 shots faced and was spectacular at times, especially at the end of the game on a key penalty kill that we will get to later.
Going for Buffalo was Robin Lehner, who had a good shutout streak going. The Sabres’ goaltending tandem of Chad Johnson and Lehner had a great Western Canadian road trip prior to the All-Star break where they shutout both Vancouver and Edmonton. Tonight, he made 25 saves on 27 shots as his personal shutout streak ended at 145:15 and the Sabres’ team shutout streak ended at a whopping 199:09 when Miles Wood scored the first goal of the game.
This was the Devils third game this season against Buffalo, with the Devils blowing out the Sabres in Buffalo back in October and the Sabres winning in overtime in Newark in December. That OT loss to Buffalo sort of started the Devils slide. They only had two wins in their last 12 games.
Following a scoreless first period, the scoring began in the second period at 5:49 when Wood scored. It came when Kyle Palmieri made a nice play along the near boards to get the puck up to Will Butcher in the neutral zone. He quickly gave to Wood at the far boards and Wood sprinted into the Sabres’ zone, cutting in on Lehner and scoring on his backhand. The play was made possible by Wood’s speed and his ability to use it better than he had last year, he told MSG’s Deb Placey postgame. That gave the Devils a 1-0 lead.
After that, the Devils had a nice scoring opportunity when Palmieri took a shot late in the period that was saved by Lehner. Lehner held on but was spun around into the Sabres’ net. Somehow he kept the puck out of the net and under his body.
That was where it stood going into the third period. But Hall would double the Devils lead just 5:31 into the third frame. It happened when Ben Lovejoy broke out of the Devils’ zone by giving to Hischier. Hischier went up ice and gave to Bratt just inside the Buffalo blue line. Bratt made a beautiful no-look, behind the back pass to Hall, who beat Lehner low glove side to make it 2-0 Devils. It was Hall’s team-leading 19th goal of the year.
The Devils would get into some penalty trouble as Andy Greene took an interference call against Evan Rodrigues at the 13:02 mark of the third. Jake McCabe would score on that power play to make it 2-1. He got an assist from Ryan O’Reilly at 14:58. Buffalo won the faceoff cleanly and McCabe fired a wristshot with the puck on edge and found twine behind Kinkaid. The Sabres would end the night 1-for-4 on the power play with ten big shots. The Devils did not have a power play opportunity on the night.
Late in the game, with the Devils clinging to a 2-1 lead, Jesper Bratt was hit hard by McCabe. Nico Hischier took exception to the hit on his linemate as Bratt seemed to be in some pain. Nico got called for cross checking McCabe at 17:15 and Buffalo would go on a crucial power play. They would pull Lehner for the 6-on-4 man advantage, but the Devils killed that off with some help from Kinkaid’s big saves. Hischier came out of the penalty box, but over skated the puck on the way to an empty netter.
Finally, Palmieri took the puck from a Sabres player headed up ice and gently laid it into the net. The goal was actually reviewed from Toronto, to see if the initial zone break-in by Brian Boyle was offside. The linesmen concluded that it was not and we had a good goal, putting the Devils up 3-1 with six seconds remaining in the game. That put it away and iced a Devils victory.
Stats saw Greene lead in ice time with 21:13, Hall lead in shots on goal with five, Drew Stafford and Blake Coleman tie for the lead in hits with three each, Greene lead in blocks with four and Palmieri lead in takeaways with two. The Devils won 46-percent of the game’s faceoffs.
Next up for New Jersey, they have a crucial Metropolitan Division showdown with the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday at home. The Devils have had a rough time of it this year against Philly and we will find out if they can finally break through and gain two big Metro Division points then.