Devils Special Teams Cost Them in Loss to Sabres

I am writing this a little bit after midnight on April 23 as I had last second change of plans on Thursday and needed to DVR the game. Just got the chance to view it. I should note that I will be attending the game against Carolina this afternoon at Prudential Center and will get the report up for that one a little later than usual as a result too.

Anyway, the Devils continue to coast towards the end of the 2021-22 season dealing with injuries and the resulting changes to their lineup. They also continue to give some young players looks heading into the offseason and the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs.

On Thursday, they fell 5-2 to the Buffalo Sabres at Prudential Center as their special teams once again did them in.

Mike Morreale joined Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador on the MSG+ pregame show and discussed a range of topics, including the 2022 NHL Draft, where Alexander Holtz could slot in in New Jersey if he gets a chance in the lineup next season as well as goaltending and where the Devils will go from here and Luke Hughes and whether he will play another year at Michigan or jump to the NHL next sesaon.

On the topic of Holtz, Morreale mentioned his use as the trigger man on the Devils’ power play with his booming shot. He will obviously not be a cure-all for the Devils’ power play but could definitely work in the right direction to improve it.

The lineup saw Mason Geertsen, Ty Smith and Colton White as the healthy scratches for the night. Smith and White were sitting as not only was Kevin Bahl playing on the blue line, but Ryan Graves returned from his laceration injury without Bahl coming out of the lineup and with Nikita Okhotiuk also playing and making his NHL debut – wearing number 82.

Okhotiuk teamed up with PK Subban on the third pairing and would go on to have a very memorable night. Graves was back on the second pairing with Damon Severson.

In goal, the Devils were back to Andrew Hammond, who stopped 23 of 28 total Buffalo shots for an .821 save percentage. He stopped one of the Sabres’ three shorthanded shots and their only power play shot. At five-on-five, he made 21 saves on 24 shots.

Nico Daws was sent back down to Utica to help out their playoff push and Jon Gillies was Hammond’s backup for the game.

The Sabres started Hammond’s crease mate in Ottawa, Craig Anderson on Thursday. Anderson, a veteran (to say the least) stopped 29 of the Devils’ 31 total shots for a .935 save percentage. He stopped all seven Devils shots on the power play and was 22-for-24 at even strength.

The Sabres ended the game 0-for-1 on the man advantage as a team while the Devils were 0-for-4 (with a hit post or two there as well, to boot).

The Devils were returning from a largely successful western road trip where they had gone 3-1-1 and had inserted themselves as spoilers in the Western Conference playoff picture.

But now they were playing a team that, like them, were far out of a playoff spot and playing out the string. Would they play down to their competition or rise above the situation and beat the rising Sabres, who were looking to win their third straight?

Hammond showed where he was right off the bat, as he stopped Rasmus Asplund on a great chance very early in the game.

In fact, the Sabres peppered the Devils goalie a lot during the first period. Casey Mittelstadt fed Alex Tuch with a great pass midway through the period that saw Tuch hit the pipe as the Devils were lucky not to be down early.

Converting on the power play continued to be a problem for New Jersey as well.

With 16:20 gone by in the first, Kyle Okposo was called for a hook, putting the Devils up a man and Jesper Bratt had a great chance in close where he used his quick hands to make a great move, but hit the post. Head coach Lindy Ruff called that play out particularly in his postgame press conference as he said that those were the kinds of chances that needed to be buried for the Devils to be successful.

Special teams would become a huge problem for the Devils as things fell apart in the second period.

It began with Rasmus Dahlin going off for tripping at 9:08 putting the Devils on the power play. At 9:37 gone, Dougie Hamilton was called for a slash to even things at 4-on-4. Mittelstadt was then called for a hook at 10:56 gone to put New Jersey up 4-on-3 for about 30 seconds.

When the first two penalties to Dahlin and Hamilton expired, the Devils were still up a man and that is where the trouble happened.

Okposo scored a shorthanded goal at 11:53 from Dahlin and Anderson just by dumping the puck into the Devils zone.

His dump in from center ice hit Tomas Tatar’s stick and changed sudden direction on Hammond, dipping down on him and beating him from, essentially 100-feet out.

It was a really tough break for the Devils and their goalie as Hammond had been playing well and that just took the wind right out of his sails.

With the Devils still up 5-on-4, at 12:40 gone by, Victor Olofsson gained a breakaway into the Devils zone with Tuch trailing.

Hammond stopped Olofsson, but Tuch just kind of backhandedly threw the rebound on net as he was curling away to go back on defense. The shot beat Hammond and the Sabres had their second shorthanded goal in 47 seconds – on the same penalty kill.

This was the first time the Devils had given up two shorties on the same power play since January 27, 2020 in a game at the Ottawa Senators that New Jersey eventually won.

This was going to be a steeper climb, however. Especially since Buffalo scored again at the 17:58 mark.

That one was at even strength and came when Olofsson got it to Dahlin at the top of the near faceoff circle. Olofsson broke his stick on the ensuring shot that redirected by Hammond and in off of the skate of Dawson Mercer as Mercer tried to block the shot.

In a very short sequence, it was 3-0 Sabres and things were looking dire for the Devils.

Jesper Boqvist gave them some hope at the very end of the second when he made it 3-1, however, to continue his goals-scored streak and move it to three-straight games.

Hamilton hit Michael McLeod with an outlet pass and McLeod was off up the right-wing side. He centered towards net with Boqvist crashing in. The big Swede got a swipe or two at the puck and was able to jam it home to put the Devils on the board with eight seconds to go in the second period.

The third period began with Tatar hitting the post early on and that would seem to spark the Devils a bit.

At 4:59 gone by, Okhotiuk, a defenseman not known much for his offensive prowess prior to coming to the NHL, scored his first NHL goal.

He had been taking shots all night, eventually ending with four finding their target at game’s end. This one certainly found its target as well.

A strong Devils forecheck kept the puck alive in the Buffalo zone. It eventually pinballed to Pavel Zacha, who passed to Janne Kuokkanen at the near faceoff circle. His shot was blocked by Anderson and the rebound found its way to Okhotiuk at the far circle.

He stepped into a blast and scored to make it 3-2 Sabres. Congratulations to him on his first NHL goal!

Buffalo, however, was not to be outdone.

At the 8:33 gone by mark, their own rookie defenseman, Owen Power – the first overall pick in last summer’s draft – notched his first NHL goal.

Tage Thompson fed Jeff Skinner, who broke into the Devils zone and got tied up with a New Jersey defender. He went down but made a pass from to Power from his knees. Power was coming up the left-side, took the pass and beat Hammond five-hole along the ice for his first NHL goal. Congrats to him as well as he made it 4-2 Buffalo.

Skinner would put the kibosh on the game for the Sabres at 16:03 gone by when Buffalo broke into the Devils zone on an odd-man rush. Olofsson made a backhanded pass to Thompson, who fed Skinner. Skinner finished and it was now 5-2 Buffalo, our final.

A rough loss for the Devils to take, for sure.

The Devils ended up outshooting the Sabres 31-28. Each team won 50-percent of the game’s faceoffs. McLeod led the centers with a 57-percent winning percentage personally (that’s all I can give you as the official game reports – including the faceoff logs – are apparently not available on the NHL’s game logs following a certain amount of time).

Buffalo ended with eight penalty minutes racked up as a team while the Devils had four. The Devils also had 22 hits to the Sabres 13 and seven blocked shots to Buffalo’s ten. Team giveaways saw the Sabres finish with 12 while the Devils had just seven.

For the first time in a long time, a forward, Nico Hischier, led Devils skaters in time on ice with 21:22 total (including 4:19 on the power play). Mercer led the forwards in shorthanded time with 1:33 out of his 16:25 of total time. He also logged 1:37 of PP time.

Amongst defensemen, Hamilton led in total time with 20:27 logged (including 4:27 on the power play). Graves and Bahl led in PK time with 2-minutes logged while killing penalties. Graves played 19:35 total TOI and 19 seconds on the PP while Bahl played 18:44 total TOI.

Hischier led in shots on goal with five. Nathan Bastian led in hits with four. Blocks were led by Graves with two. He also led in personal giveaways with two. Personal takeaways were led by Hischier with three.

Next up, the aforementioned tilt with the Carolina Hurricanes this afternoon. Puck drop is at 12:30 and I will try to get a review up on the site at a reasonable time. The game will be broadcast on MSG.

One other piece of business that I wanted to address before signing off for this game and that is Dawson Mercer having his number retired at his local arena back home in Newfoundland.

Mercer had the number 14 that he wore while playing in the Bay Arena Minor Hockey Association and with the Tri-Pen Ice AAA peewee and bantam teams retired at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland on Thursday according to Amanda Stein.

The ceremony took place in Bay Roberts while Dawson was busy playing against the Buffalo Sabres in Newark, New Jersey. It was a part of ceremonies to begin the U15 A Provincial Tournament according to Stein.

Stein did mention that Mercer sent in a video message since he was not able to attend in person.

Stein quoted Mercer as telling Nicolas Mercer (a reporter who covers central Newfoundland for the Saltwire Network): “That was my number growing up and now that number will be honored from my hockey in the past, from playing there, and it’s pretty cool.”

Mercer currently wears number 18 with the Devils. Congrats to him not only on this honor, but also on his amazing rookie season in the NHL so far!

I also wanted to address the sad news that came down yesterday (April 22) as, less than a week after losing NHL and Islander legend Mike Bossy to lung cancer, the same terrible disease claimed all-time Montreal Canadien great Guy Lafleur as well.

The hockey legend had been battling cancer publicly since making the announcement in 2019. Rest in peace to one of the greatest to even lace up a pair of skates.

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!