Sabres Snap Devils’ Bid For Perfect Homestand in OT

Sports are weird. The Devils had won five straight games and six out of their last seven. They are in the hunt for first place in the Metropolitan Division, the toughest division in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire NHL. The Devils were rolling this holiday season and nothing seemed to be able to derail them.

Then along come the Buffalo Sabres, last place in the Eastern Conference, falling behind in the much weaker Atlantic Division. They had won only one overtime game this year and were just struggling overall. But, instead of the script going the way it should have – the Devils winning on home ice and sweeping a homestand of more than five games for the first time in their 35 years of existence – the Sabres were the ones who prevailed, in OT, 4-3. They came back from a two goal deficit and a little bit of help from instant replay to top the Devils.

Buffalo is currently on an extended road trip (one which includes a “home” game at Citi Field against the Rangers in the Winter Classic) due to the IIHF World Junior Championship taking over their facilities in Western New York.

A roster move to inform you about: Dalton Prout cleared waivers and was assigned to Binghamton of the AHL. The Devils had to make this move after the Christmas break roster freeze and getting everyone back and healthy. Also, Prout had not played since October or so, so it was only fair to get him some playing time in the American League. Tonight, Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy and Drew Stafford were the healthy scratches.

In goal, Cory Schneider was making another start for the Devils. He has gotten back to being his usual workhorse self this season. He made 25 saves on 29 Sabres shots. Facing him was Robin Lehner who made 35 saves on the night on 38 Devils shots. The Devils saw Lehner in relief earlier in the season up in Buffalo in what was a rout in favor of New Jersey.

The Devils got the scoring kicked off 13:35 into the first period. Damon Severson broke into the Buffalo zone and gave it to Pavel Zacha. He dished to Stefan Noesen, who jammed it in on Lehner. Miles Wood was trailing and was relentless in the goal mouth scramble, continuing to chip away at the puck and finding it loose and putting it by Lehner to make it 1-0 Devils.

That lead would last until 5:27 into the second period when an old friend struck back at the Devils. Jacob Josefson scored his second of the season on a partial breakaway off an intercepted pass in the Sabres’ zone to tie things up at one. He got an assist from Jordan Nolan.

From there the Devils seemed to take control of the game. It began when Marcus Johansson scored at 8:34 on the power play. Zemgus Girgensons had gone off for holding setting that up and Johansson skated the puck into the Sabres’ zone. He gave to Jesper Bratt at the top of the far faceoff circle, who passed to Sami Vatanen at the point. Vatanen passed down to Nico Hischier at the near half wall. Hischier moved back and forth, drawing some pressure to him and then gave back to Vatanen at the point. He one-touched a pass to Johansson, who was lurking at the far faceoff dot. Johansson one-timed a shot by Lehner to give the Devils back the lead, 2-1.

That power play goal made the Devils 1-for-2 on the night. They had one shot on those two power plays. Buffalo was 1-for-3 with five shots.

The Devils would add to their lead 14:55 into the second period when John Moore struck for his fifth of the year. It happened when the puck was dumped into the Sabres’ zone and Nathan Beaulieu tried to wind the puck around the boards. It was cut off by Brian Gibbons, who gave to Moore at the near point. He fired and beat Lehner to make it 3-1 Devils.

From there, however, the wheels would begin to fall off for the Devils. It began, as it usually does, with a goal given up late in the period. Jack Eichel scored from Jake McCabe and Girgensons at the 18:05 mark of the second period. Eichel had redirected McCabe’s shot to make it 3-2 Devils. The Sabres would then tie things up at three when Eichel scored his second of the game 11:04 into the third period from Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen. That goal came on the power play as Vatanen was sitting for slashing. Eichel would nearly notch the hat trick when he would hit the crossbar with less than two minutes left in the game.

Then the weird part of the game, as the Devils had seemingly retaken the lead at 7:42 of the third when Taylor Hall skated in and beat Lehner with a beautiful move. Sabres coach Phil Housley challenged the goal, claiming Hall was offsides when he entered the Sabres zone. They won, as the replay showed that Hall was essentially bobbling the puck in the air when he entered the zone, meaning he did not have full control of it. It was a nice play on Hall’s part, but was deemed no goal by the officials. The game was still tied up at three.

So, after all of that, time in regulation expired and we were headed off to overtime. It was Buffalo’s second straight OT game, having lost to the Islanders the other night. The OT period was amazing, with action going back-and-forth for about two and a half minutes until, at 2:37, Ristolainen found twine behind Cory off an assist to Ryan O’Reilly to make it a 4-3 final.

So, some stats on the night. Vatanen was the ice time leader, eating up 23:15. He also led the Devils in shots on goal with a whopping eight. Steven Santini led in hits with four, while Travis Zajac and Moore both led in blocks with two apiece. The Devils won only 39-percent of their faceoffs as a team.

Next up, tomorrow, a showdown with the Washington Capitals in Washington. The Devils actually still lead the Metro Division, having gained their 50th point tonight. The Caps will be a stiff test and something the Devils have not seen in a long time. That will also be the second half of a back-to-back (the Capitals did not play tonight, making things tougher for the Devils) and the final game for the Devils in the 2017 calendar year. We will see you then.

Devils Fall in New Jersey Half of Home-and-Home With Jackets

The Devils had a chance to put some distance between them and the Columbus Blue Jackets in first place in the Metropolitan Division with a win tonight. Unfortunately, despite a first period where they absolutely dominated, the Devils were unable to muster enough for a victory and fell on home ice 5-3 in the second half of a home-and-home series with the Jackets.

It was Star Wars Night at The Rock, with lots of Star Wars characters on hand and a lot of promotions related to the venerable movie franchise. All of the graphics on the scoreboard were Star Wars related, in addition (with the Devils playing the Rebel Alliance, the good guys naturally; while the Blue Jackets took on the role of the evil Galactic Empire).

The lineup was largely the same as Tuesday night in Columbus, with Ben Lovejoy, Dalton Prout and Pavel Zacha all healthy scratches. For Zacha, this is his second game as a scratch and it will be interesting to see how his story plays out going forward. Also, defenseman Sami Vatanen, who was acquired last week from the Ducks, was making his home ice debut as a Devil.

New Jersey came out like gangbusters in the first period – getting a few great scoring chances early – but did not break through until the 8:29 mark of the first when Brian Boyle scored to make it 1-0. That goal came when Jimmy Hayes dumped the puck into the Columbus zone and Miles Wood chased it, pushing it to a supporting Hayes, who was now behind the net. He centered with a nifty backhand pass to Boyle, who was cutting into the slot. Boyle shot, beating Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky glove side to give New Jersey the early lead.

The Devils would double that lead later on in the first when Marcus Johansson scored at 14:10. That came when Travis Zajac sealed off a Blue Jackets player, freeing up a loose puck for Stefan Noesen. Noesen spun around and shot just to the stick side of Bobrovsky’s goal cage. Johansson was there to pick up the puck and tucked it in on a nice wraparound goal to make it 2-0 Devils.

The Devils had played a near-perfect first period and had a two goal lead to show for it. Despite that, the shots on goal were tied after the first period at nine apiece. That was almost a harbinger of things to come.

Just 2:29 into the second period, Pierre-Luc Dubois scored from Artemi Panarin to get the Jackets on the board and cut the Devils’ lead in half, 2-1. At the 5:44 mark, Lukas Sedlak scored (also with an assist from Panarin) to tie things up at two. And, finally, Columbus’ turnaround was complete 14:13 into the second when Scott Harrington gave them the 3-2 lead (assists to Panarin and Boone Jenner). Things had seemingly gone off the rails for the Devils.

New Jersey would get one back to tie things up with about 20 seconds remaining in the second when Brian Gibbons dropped a puck back to Steven Santini at the far point. He fired a shot that acted more as a slap pass back to Gibbons. Gibbons fed Blake Coleman, who was sneaking through the slot and went back door on Bobrovsky to tie things up at three. The Devils had gotten a late goal, one with less than a minute left in a period. That should have been demoralizing for Columbus – in theory.

It was not, however, as the wheels completely fell off in the third period. It began just 1:32 in to the third frame when Alexander Wennberg scored a power play goal with assists to Panarin and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Andy Greene had taken a tripping penalty for tripping Dubois just 20 seconds into the period and the Devils paid for it. It was now 4-3 Blue Jackets.

But they would get a reprieve when Markus Hannikainen was assessed a four minute double minor for high sticking Nico Hischier at the 11:05 mark. The Devils did not convert and, in fact, ended up taking a too many men on the ice penalty with seconds left on their four minute power play.

Ultimately, the Devils were 0-for-4 on the power play with two shots on goal while the Jackets were 1-for-2 with three shots on goal.

Zach Werenski would put things away for the Jackets when he scored at the 15:02 mark of the third from Panarin and Seth Jones. Panarin had, remarkably, factored in on all five Blue Jacket goals, notching five assists on the night and taking first star honors for the night. Brian Boyle of the Devils was star number two while Alexander Wennberg from Columbus was star number three.

For the goaltenders, Bobrovsky saw 24 Devils shots nad stopped 21 of them and Cory Schneider, who was pulled with roughly one minute left in the game for the extra attacker, saw 28 Columbus shots and stopped 23 of them.

Sami Vatanen, in his Devils home debut, was the team’s time on ice leader with 26:04 while Taylor Hall led in shots on goal with four. Zajac led in hits with three on the night.

Next up, the Devils will have to regroup hard as they play tomorrow night in Manhattan against the rival New York Rangers. A rivalry game could be a blessing in disguise in that it could get you up and ready to play, or the pressure could be too much. Add to that that the Rangers lost tonight to Washington and they will also be trying to bounce back. We will have it here for you as the Hudson River Rivalry is renewed tomorrow night.