It had been more than three weeks since the Devils had felt the friendly confines of Prudential Center. This afternoon, they returned after defeating the Bruins – a Stanley Cup contender for sure – on Thursday and took a tough L to the Buffalo Sabres.
But one monumental piece of news announced prior to the game: Nico Hischier will be the 12th captain in the history of the New Jersey Devils. At 22-years-old, he is the second youngest captain in team history (Kirk Muller was 21 when he was named captain).
Nico made his return – with the C on his jersey – today, his first game since March 10, 2020. He was the last player to come off the COVID list as the Devils do not have one player on that list for the first time since mid-January.
With that, Travis Zajac was also back in the lineup, playing in career game number 999. He should reach number 1,000 tomorrow against the Capitals.
Also returning from COVID was play-by-play announcer Steve Cangialosi. He called the game today on MSG+ after missing two games.
And one final return as with the Sabres in town, Taylor Hall was making his first Prudential Center appearance since the trade that sent him to Arizona last December. According to Hall on Twitter, the Devils paid tribute to him in-arena, acknowledging the only player in Devils history to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
The team was looking for their second straight win over the Sabres since the win on January 31. The last time the Devils had a four-game winning streak was October 6-16, 2018.
In nets, Mackenzie Blackwood was making his third consecutive start for the Devils, making 26 saves on 29 Buffalo shots for an .897 save percentage. He stopped the lone shorthanded shot the Sabres threw at him. He was 0-for-1 on power play shots and made 25-of-27 saves at even strength.
Facing him was Linus Ullmark for Buffalo. He was 25-for-27 total for a .926 save percentage. He did not see a shorthanded shot and stopped three of the Devils’ four power play shots. He stopped 22-of-23 at even strength.
The Devils’ scratches were Matt Tennyson, Ryan Murray and Scott Wedgwood. Aaron Dell backed up Blackwood.
Buffalo got the scoring kicked off just 5:28 into the game when Eric Staal won a faceoff in the Devils’ end. Hall jumped in and got the puck to Colin Miller at the point. Miller shot through traffic and scored, making it 1-0 early on.
That 1-0 score took us into the second period when Buffalo would triple their lead thanks to two goals from Sam Reinhart.
His first came at 8:07 when, again off the faceoff, the Sabres won it and got it to Brandon Montour at the point. He went D-to-D with Matt Irwin. Irwin shot and Reinhart tipped the shot by Blackwood to make it 2-0.
Reinhart would notch his second at 17:46 of the second frame when, on the power play, Rasmus Dahlin got the puck to Jack Eichel, who made a nice no-look pass to Reinhart. Reinhart then tipped that by Blackwood to make it 3-0 Sabres.
This marked only the second time that the Devils faced a three goal deficit since January 26 when they went down three against the Flyers.
But in the third period, the Devils would make it a game. It began just 40 seconds into the new frame when Will Butcher got the puck up to Jack Hughes, who fed Kyle Palmieri, who made a driving move towards the Buffalo net. His shot fluttered in off of the far post and in. That made it 3-1.
The Devils would need to wait until late to get their next goal. At the 16:44 mark, the Devils were on the power play and pulled Blackwood following a timeout called by Lindy Ruff. With it being 6-on-4, a Hughes shot was pushed to the corner by Ullmark. Jesper Bratt collected it, moving it to Pavel Zacha. Zacha fed PK Subban at the point. Subban wound up and fired off one of his trademark slapshots, beating Ullmark to make it 3-2.
But time would run out on the Devils and, as the horn sounded, the Sabres came away with the two points.
The Devils were outshot 29-27 and won just 43-percent of the game’s faceoffs, a marked improvement over Thursday. The Sabres were 1-for-1 on the power play while the Devils were 1-for-3. The Devils were outhit 19-13 and had less blocked shots at 18-3. Buffalo came away with less giveaways at three to the Devils’ eight.
Individually, Ty Smith led all New Jersey skaters in ice time with 24:06. Hughes led the forwards with 20:51.
Shots were led by Hughes with five, hits by Zajac, Palmieri and Smith with two each, blocked shots were led by Hischier, Miles Wood and Sami Vatanen with one apiece. Takeaways were led by Hischier with two. Zacha led the centers with a 56-percent faceoff winning percentage.
Next up, the Devils travel down to DC tomorrow to play the Capitals, who, like the Devils, are reeling from a loss – them to the Rangers today. We will have coverage for you right here, as puckdrop is at 7 PM and I will be able to get the post up on time.
Until then, stay safe everyone!