Devils End Six-Game Slide with Victory in Buffalo

It had been three weeks since the New Jersey Devils had won a game. Granted, there were some postponed games in there and the mandatory Christmas break which was extended a bit due to COVID precautions. But the fact remained that the Devils were mired in a six-game winless streak nonetheless.

However, they came out of the break rested and (largely) healthy and ended up hanging on to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 at the Keybank Arena.

The Devils were playing in their first game since December 19, a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh at the Prudential Center. That seemed like eons ago as they had three games postponed in the time between that game and tonight.

In the time being, the Devils got everyone back from COVID Protocol while only adding Tomas Tatar, Jon Gillies and – earlier today – Jimmy Vesey to the list. Back were Nico Hischier, Christian Jaros (who was a healthy scratch tonight along with Mason Geertsen), PK Subban, Ryan Graves and Jesper Boqvist.

Also, with the re-establishment of Taxi Squads temporarily from now to the All-Star Break, the Devils recalled Marian Studenic, Boqvist and Kevin Bahl to the Taxi Squad. Only Studenic played tonight, suiting up on the left side on the fourth line with Michael McLeod and Nate Bastian.

In goal, Mackenzie Blackwood was also back from his neck injury. He started tonight and made 19 saves on 22 Sabres shots for a nightly .864 save percentage. All of those shots and saves came at five-versus-five as Buffalo went 0-for-1 on their only power play chance and did not register a shot.

Facing him for the Sabres was Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and the Finnish goaltender had a busy night. He stopped 38 of the Devils’ total of 42 shots against for a .905 save percentage on the night. He let in one of the Devils’ two power play shots as New Jersey was 1-for-2 on the man advantage and made 37 saves on 40 shots at five-against-five.

Some notes on the Sabres’ lineup tonight as Alex Tuch, acquired in November in the Jack Eichel trade from Vegas but injured, played in his first game for Buffalo tonight. Also in the lineup as a defenseman and playing his second NHL game was Casey Fitzgerald. He is the son of Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald.

The Sabres, however, were without their head coach Don Granato, who is in COVID Protocol. Filling in for him was assistant coach Matt Ellis.

The Devils broke through early, on the power play no less, as that seems to be starting to click for them of late.

Kyle Okposo was called for a high-stick against Graves 4:01 into the game setting the Devils up on 5-on-4 advantage.

Just 42 seconds into the power play, Hischier dug the puck out from behind the Sabres net and got it to Jack Hughes on the perimeter. Hughes quickly moved it to Dougie Hamilton, setting him up for a one-timer at the point. Hamilton blasted a shot low with Bastian as the screen in front. Hamilton’s shot beat Luukkonen cleanly to make it 1-0 Devils.

The Devils would double their lead before the end of first period was up when Jesper Bratt scored. Hughes passed the puck from the half wall on the far side to Subban at the point. Subban let loose a bomb of a shot and the rebound came to Bratt, who was crashing in through the slot. Bratt gathered the puck and shot from a sharp angle, beating Luukkonen to make it 2-0 Devils.

That goal came with 11:48 gone in the first period.

A few minutes later, at 14:56 gone, Brett Murray of the Sabres tried to spark them back into the game when he scrapped with Jonas Siegenthaler. Both received five-minutes for fighting with Murray also picking up the instigator minor to put the Devils on the power play.

Of note on that power play, Damon Severson hit the crossbar, coming oh-so-close to giving the Devils a three-goal lead.

Buffalo would survive that penalty kill and would get back into the game more explosively in the second period – courtesy of one Tage Thompson.

Thompson would cut the Devils lead in half just 33 seconds into the second period. Rasmus Dahlin won a board battle on the near side and got the puck to Tuch at the point. Tuch shot with Thompson camped in front of Blackwood and redirected Tuch’s shot by the Devils’ netminder to make it 2-1.

Less than three minutes later, at 3:17 gone by in the second period, Thompson struck again for his second of the night.

Dahlin poked the puck away from a Devils puck carrier in the Buffalo zone and air mailed a high pass to Thompson, who was in behind the Devils defense. Thompson broke in on a clear breakaway on Blackwood and beat him glove side to knot the game up at two goals apiece.

And that would take us in to a possibly decisive third period.

It would begin with Hughes notching his third point of the night – this time a goal – 4:28 into the period.

Yegor Sharangovich took a shot from the top of the near faceoff circle and the rebound came out to Hughes, who was fighting off a check through the slot to get to the loose puck. He got to it and put the puck behind Luukkonen to make it 3-2 Devils.

Bratt had the secondary assist and Hughes now had a goal and two assists for his first multi-point game since April of 2021 (his 13th in the NHL overall).

At the 6:50 mark of the third, Sharangovich would pad the Devils lead out a little bit more when Bratt moved the puck to Ty Smith at the point. Smith got off a quick wrister that was going wide of the net. However, Sharangovich was fighting in front to gain position, corralled the wide shot and redirected it into the Buffalo net behind Luukkonen to make it 4-2 Devils.

Things have not been that easy for the Devils this season, though and tonight was no exception.

The Sabres would cut the lead to one goal at 14:38 gone by in the third when Ethan Prow, playing in his first NHL game, scored his first NHL goal.

Mark Pysyk chipped the puck to Victor Olofsson at the point. His shot was initially stopped by Blackwood, but he could not handle the rebound and Prow, who was, again, fighting for position in front of the net, was able to slide the puck underneath Blackwood while cutting in the near side.

The score was now 4-3 Devils and we would be in for a battle to end the game.

The Sabres pulled Luukkonen with just over 1:30 left in regulation. The Devils, despite this, held on to pick up the win.

The Devils outshot the Sabres 42-22 and won 51-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Hischier led the Devils centers with a personal 67-percent winning clip.

The Sabres racked up 19 penalty minutes as a team while the Devils held it to seven. Buffalo outhit the Devils 17 to six. The Sabres had more blocked shots at 15 to the Devils’ 13. Buffalo had eight giveaways to New Jersey’s three as a team.

Siegenthaler totaled 22:21 of ice time (including 1:07 on the PK) while Hamilton led the defensemen in power play time with 2:08 on the PP included in his 20:17 of total TOI.

For the forwards, Hughes led in total ice time with 17:52 (including 2:08 on the power play). McLeod led the forwards in shorthanded time (1:07 included in his 14:59 total TOI) while Bastian (14:29 total time on ice) and Hischier (16:40 of total time on ice including 48 seconds of PK time) also played 2:08 on the power play with Hughes.

Hughes (one goal, two assists) and Bratt (one goal, two assists) led the Devils with three points each while Sharangovich (one goal, one assist) had two points. Hughes also led in shots on goal with six. Pavel Zacha and Subban both had five shots to come in second in that category.

Bastian and Siegenthaler each had two hits to lead there. Graves, in his return to the lineup, had five blocked shots, leading in that category. Giveaways were kept to a minimum as Dawson Mercer, Hughes and Smith each had one to lead while takeaways were led by Marian Studenic, Jesper Boqvist and Hughes with each as well.

Next up, the Devils will return home for a 1 PM matinee at Prudential Center on New Year’s Eve against the Edmonton Oilers. That game will be shown on MSG+ locally.

Things, of course, have been subject to change and we will keep you posted should they do so.

Until then, enjoy the rest of your week everyone!

Nicos Run Wild as Devils Defeat Sabres in OT

The Devils, coming off of their first loss of the season, took on the Buffalo Sabres tonight on the second half of a back-to-back for them. It was a hard fought one, but the Devils took home the two points when they beat Buffalo 2-1 in overtime.

The Sabres were also coming off of their first loss of the year, having been defeated by the Boston Bruins last night. They won their first three of the year before running into the B’s on Friday.

The Devils also had some changes in goal as Jonathan Bernier is still out with a lower body injury and Mackenzie Blackwood remains on Injured Reserve. With that, Scott Wedgewood stepped aside as the backup and Nico Daws made his NHL debut. He became the third Devils’ starting goalie through their first four games.

He also became the third youngest goaltender at 20 years old to make his NHL debut in a start. Both Craig Billington and Martin Brodeur did it at 19 years old. Daws wore number 50.

Daws made 24 saves on 25 total Sabres shots. He let in the only power play shot he saw as the Sabres were 1-for-2 on the man advantage. He stopped all 24 shots he saw at even strength and finished with a .960 save percentage.

Buffalo countered with Dustin Tokarski. He stopped 37 of the Devils’ total 39 shots for a .949 save percentage. He let in one of the three New Jersey power play shots as the Devils finished 1-for-3. He stopped 35 of the 36 shots the Devils peppered him with at even strength.

In addition to Bernier, the Devils’ scratches included Mason Geertsen and Christian Jaros. Jaros slotted out of the lineup because Ty Smith returned and made his season debut tonight. Smith played 20:49 of total ice time (including 16 seconds on the power play and 49 seconds of penalty kill time) and registered three blocked shots, a giveaway and a takeaway. With him back, the Devils’ core defense was all healthy and intact.

In another note, former Devils defenseman Will Butcher was making his return to Prudential Center tonight as a member of the Sabres. He was wearing his traditional number 4, which he wore in college, but could (obviously) not wear in New Jersey.

The Devils looked a little shaky in the first period and fell behind very early.

Jonas Siegenthaler was called for holding Jeff Skinner just 1:57 into the game and Dylan Cozens would make them pay.

At 3:19, Cozens spun off the half wall and gave to Jacob Bryson at the point. Bryson gave the puck back to Cozens and Cozens stepped up to the far faceoff circle and shot, beating Daws to make it 1-0 Buffalo. Kyle Okposo had the secondary assist on the goal.

Things looked a little better for the Devils at the 4:07 mark of the first. On a delayed penalty to Buffalo’s Arttu Ruosalainen for hooking Nico Hischier, Hischier pushed Tokarski’s pad into the net with the puck. The red goal light did go on, but the referee waved the goal off, saying that he blew the whistle before the puck entered the net – which it had.

Devils head coach Lindy Ruff decided to use his coach’s challenge on that to review and see if the puck went in before the whistle blew. The review upheld the call on the ice of no goal.

The Devils were assessed a delay of game penalty for the unsuccessful challenge – putting the teams at 4-on-4 for the next two minutes. Coach Ruff later, during his postgame press conference, said that that this was “on him.”

The Devils came on and pressed during the middle second period, especially late when Tokarski stood on his head. He stopped Marian Studenic point blank and the Devils ended up hitting two posts on one scramble in front. On one, the goal horn even went off briefly, but the Devils did not score. They added one more post before the period was through.

Towards the end of the second period, Nico Hischier went down the tunnel, having favored an injury for most of the period.

But Nico would return for the third period.

And he would tie things up. At the 5:52 mark of the third, on the power play, Hischier scored to finally knot the game at one.

Rasmus Dahlin was called for interference against Andreas Johnsson at 4:24. On the ensuing man advantage, Dougie Hamilton got the puck at the point off of a broken play. Hamilton took a shot that went wide of the net. The puck caromed off the boards to Hischier in front and Nico directed the puck behind Tokarski to make it 1-1. Tomas Tatar had the secondary assist on the goal.

Time expired on regulation and the game was off to overtime. It was the Sabres’ first OT game of the year and the Devils’ second (they won on opening night against the Chicago Blackhawks in OT).

This one would go a little bit longer than the Chicago overtime. It took until the 3:09 mark for Pavel Zacha to gain the Buffalo zone. He dropped the puck for Damon Severson just at the top of the circles. Severson faked a shot to draw in the Buffalo D while Zacha went to the near faceoff circle. He got a pass back from Severson and wristed a shot by Tokarski to win the game for the Devils 2-1. Yegor Sharangovich had the secondary assist on the game-winner.

The Devils outshot Buffalo 39-25 and won 66-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Michael McLeod won 76-percent of his faceoffs to lead the team in that category. The Sabres accumulated eight team penalty minutes to New Jersey’s six. The Sabres outhit the Devils 30-25 and had more blocks at 13 to the Devils’ ten. The Devils also had more turnovers at 13 to the Sabres’ six, with Hamilton and Hischier having two apiece for the Devils. Dawson Mercer, McLeod, Tatar and Ryan Graves each had two takeaways to lead in that category.

Ice time saw Severson lead with 22:34 logged (including 2:11 on the power play and 1:11 of PK time. Hischier led the forwards with 20:06 (including 3:59 on the power play and 55 seconds killing penalties).

Hischier led in shots on goal with five, hits were led by McLeod with four and Smith led in blocks with three.

Next up, the Devils will welcome their first Canadian guests into the Prudential Center this season as the Calgary Flames come calling on Tuesday. They will be the first opponent from North of the Border since late 2020 as 2021 saw the Devils not cross over with the North Division at any point in the regular season. It will also see Blake Coleman return to The Rock for the first time as a Flame.

Puck drop for that game is 7 PM and we will hopefully see you then.