The Devils came into Buffalo this afternoon desperately in need of a win. They didn't get one, but they played well enough to earn a point via a shootout loss. The Devils came into the game losers of three straight, facing a Buffalo team that had won their last two, but was minus the services of leading scorer Thomas Vanek today. That being said, its pretty disappointing the Devils could not come away with a win this afternoon. I'll take some solace in the fact that a point was finally earned. The Devils, as expected, were able to outshoot and out attempt the Buffalo Sabres today. At the beginning of the game and for stretches throughout, both teams struggled to establish the forecheck. Despite the fact that the Devils were able to pile up the shots and the attempts through the first two periods, the Sabres still had as many, if not more quality scoring chances than the Devils. By my first count, the Devils were outchanced at even strength 12 - 9, and 12 - 6 at 5v5. Also, key mistakes did in the Devils on each of the Sabres three goals. The Devils also hurt themselves by not really creating enough shots or opportunities late in the game, despite some pressure and possession in the offensive zone.
The Opposition Opinion: The Sabres winning streak has now reached 3 games. Check out Zachary Zielonka's thoughts on today's game over at Die By the Blade.
The Highlights: will be added later when I can find a working feed.
The first period was pretty uneventful in terms of quality scoring chances or interesting play. It was pretty chippy but not necessarily well played or interesting to watch. It was a pretty slow moving game with a lot of stoppages and a pretty high number of faceoffs throughout (81). Both teams were tentative in the first, not wanting to make a mistake. There were not a lot of very clean zone entries, and it felt like a lot of neutral zone play and disruptions while neither team could really establish a forecheck.
Buffalo had two power plays in the first period, but each one was cut short when the Devils PK drew a penalty. Patrick Kaleta got under the skin of Travis Zajac, and to a much greater extent, Ilya Kovalchuk who got into it several times with the annoying Kaleta. Despite spending 4 minutes in the box, Kovy still played 7:45 in the first period, and 26:04 in the game to lead all Devils.
Early 2nd - Devils pile on some shots but not really that many quality chances. Then, they start to ice the puck over and over, and Buffalo puts up the best chance of the period on a spin shot in front from Erhoff. Moose is up to the task. Shortly after, the Devils got some pressure from the Zajac-Elias- Clarkson line and a great quality chance from Travis Zajac right in front of the net which he could not convert.
They draw a penalty, which turns out to not work out so well for them. At the start of the power play, Buffalo get a clear, and Cody Hodgson forechecks really hard. Zidlicky's standard ‘wave my stick one way and smack the puck behind my back play' didn't work, and Hodgson jammed up the puck and outworked Ilya Kovalchuk to gain control. He then wheeled and found Jason Pominville all alone in front with Bobby Butler standing around watching. No surprise Butler was mostly a spectator for the remainder of the game.
Not too long after, the Devils get an equalizer. Off an offensive zone faceoff, a point shot from Mark Fayne deflected off Ryan Carter before hitting Steve Bernier by the far side of the crease and trickling past the goal line to tie the game at 1. It was a fortunate bounce for the Devils, but with Ryan Carter back on the ice today, the CBGB line was right back on the scoresheet.
Over the next few minutes, it took a few very good saves by Hedberg to keep the game tied. First it was Moose with a big save on Hecht in front. Then, a great poke check save on Stafford. Despite the advantage in shots, the Sabres were putting the more dangerous chances on net, and Moose was strong.
Early in the third, the Devils penalty kill, which had been very good already, provided the go ahead goal. Adam Henrique, who has continued to be an excellent penalty killer this season, struck again shorthanded. Henrique was quick to a loose puck just outside the zone, and he won the puck among several Sabres. He poked it ahead to himself, and was off alone on a break while the closest Sabre, Pominville, coasted and watched. The finish from Henrique is absolutely perfect, and it was a much needed goal for both Adam and the Devils.
Shortly after, the Sabres tied the game on a play where Adam Larsson gets caught up ice out of position. Steve Ott was able to win the puck and work it up ahead to Cody Hodgson. Hodgson carried into the zone and waited while Pominville raced up ice on the far side. With Greene committed to Hodgson and Larsson caught up ice, the only Devil with a remote chance to stop Pomminville is Stefan Matteau. Despite his hustle, young Matteau can't catch the hard charging Pominville, who nails the one timer, tying the game at 2.
The Sabres kept up the pressure afterwards. They had a powerplay in the following minutes where they did not score, but kept the Devils pinned back under a bit of pressure. Then, shortly after, they retook the lead. After a neutral zone turnover by Stephen Gionta, Jochen Hecht drove in hard towards the net but lost the puck in the process of going by Bryce Salvador. Grigorenko picked up the puck behind the net and passed to Hecht, who had skated around to the far side. Hecht flipped the puck towards the goal from almost behind the net. The puck may have deflected off Bernier's skate before fluttering hopelessly off Moose's shoulder and into the back of the goal.
Needing to turn up the pressure, the Devils received one of their best shifts of the game from the Kovalchuk - Loktionov - Matteau line. Loktionov kept the puck nicely down low, and then the Sabres turned it over attempting to clear. Pominville misplayed what looked like a playable pass, and Andy Greene held the puck in the zone. Ilya Kovalchuk threw a nice pass to Matteau in front, who dropped the puck brilliantly behind the back for Loktionov. Loktionov's patience paid off as he out-waited Ryan Miller on the play. Miller dropped to the ice as Loktionov skated through the slot, and it was an easy tap in from the other side once he cleared the sprawling Miller.
New Jersey followed up the goal with some good pressure. The CBGB line created some chances and pinned back Buffalo, who could really do nothing but ice the puck a few times. The Devils maintained the better run of play through the rest of the third, but could not break through. Overall, despite a lot of possession, they really didn't put nearly enough shots on net, somewhat of a recurring problem for this Devils team.
Overtime was really marred by penalties. The first was a puzzling call to Zidlicky . Fortunately, the Devils persevered despite facing a lot of pressure and decent quality chances from the ever dangerous 4v3 power play opportunity. For the minute or two the Devils were at 4v4, they played ok and created a couple chances. They again had to kill a penalty in the final seconds when Salvador tripped up an onrushing Sabre who beat him to the outside. And of course, we couldn't get through this game without one more scrap, this time between Henrique and Ennis as time expired in OT.
To a shootout we go. And, the regression to the shootout mean from last season continued for the Devils. Buffalo shot first, and Pominville basically just skated in slowly and picked his spot, easily beating Moose glove side with a precise shot. Kovy was up first for the Devils, and he came in with speed, beating Miller to the far post. He got Miller to go down, but fired high and over the net from a somewhat sharp angle. Next up was Tyler Ennis. Ennis skated right in and froze Hedberg, scoring blocker side. Henrique came next for the Devils. He put on a move in front, but Ryan Miller stayed right with him and gloved the backhand attempt. Game over, Sabres win.
There were some things I liked about the Devils play today, and some things I think they still need to work on quite a bit. The forecheck is still struggling to produce at times. The line depth today was a little bit better with the return of Ryan Carter, however, things were still mixed up quite a bit as Stefan Matteau saw limited minutes. To a greater extent, it was Butler who sat after his costly gaffe on Buffalo's first goal. Butler played only 5:19 overall and 4:06 at even strength in the game today. Matteau played 7:36, all at even strength. Matteau should be praised for his beautiful feed to Loktionov to set up the tying goal. But, there were other shifts Matteau was pretty much invisible for.
As usual, Kovalchuk played with a lot of different Devils forwards at different times today. I thought he was good overall. He was engaged physically early on with Patrick Kaleta, who clearly got under his skin. Late in the game, he was cheap shotted by a Sabre who I cannot remember, who met him with a stiff cross check to the back away from the puck. In between all that, he had some flashy moments, and was a part of getting the play on the tying goal. He was lost a pretty important 50-50 puck to Cody Hodgson on the shorthanded goal. Ilya did have four shots on goal, with three blocked and one missed attempt, so he was certainly active offensively.
Loktionov continues to impress with his play. He extended his point streak to five games with the tying goal in the third period, and seems to be playing well enough next to Kovalchuk for the past two games. Hopefully, he can keep it going, because it's not like many other Devils are scoring lately. Again, he scored on his only shot of the game, so it would seem like the scoring streak will not go on for long unless he can get more attempts on goal moving forward.
The Zajac-Eliias-Clarkson line was pretty good today. I thought they were probably the Devils best group of forwards overall. Zajac and Clarkson each put 4 shots on goal, while Elias had three attempts blocked. Clarkson and Zajac each had a couple quality chances. Zajac probably had the best of those opportunities with a chance from the slot denied by Miller.
The CBGB line, in theory, was supposed to go back to being a fourth line today, but that didn't really hold up in practice. With the benching of Bobby Butler and the limited ice time given to Stefan Matteau, Carter, Bernier, and Gionta each played 11 -12 minutes at evens.
I thought the defense did a fairly good job overall, and I don't really have a lot of complaints about their play. Adam Larsson made a pretty critical mistake, getting caught up ice on Pominville's second goal, and he paid for it with reduced ice time, logging the least minutes of any Devils d-man. I was pretty happy with Henrik Tallinder overall, and I thought Mark Fayne had a pretty solid game. Andy Greene was predictably solid. Bryce Salvador played a ton of minutes today (24:30 overall; 18:39 es) and didn't get torched too badly to my recollection. He also came up big with 6 blocked shots. I haven't seen possession numbers for the game, but I'll give him credit for what I saw. Hopefully I don't have to eat my words when I see the possession stats. Speaking of possession, based on the total number of attempts (61-47 NJ), it would seem that a lot of the Devils players will come out ahead in Corsi for the game.
Moose was decent in this game. I thought there were times when he made some really big saves to keep the game close. He had no chance on the two Pominville goals. The Hecht goal was questionable, but it did look like the puck may have gotten elevated through hitting Bernier's skate. It was disappointing to see it flutter in off Moose's shoulder, and I certainly would have preferred he stopped it. Also, I thought he was pretty poor in the shootout. He seemed to be playing pretty far back in his net, which is unusual for him, and also appeared to have the look, somewhat, of a Moose caught in headlights on both successful Buffalo attempts. So, I'd say he was good for the most part, questionable on one goal, and lousy in the shootout; albeit he faced two near perfect attempts, he wasn't nearly as aggressive as usual.
Overall, the Devils certainly still have some work to do. They need to put more shots on goal from dangerous areas of the ice, and be more aggressive in front of the opponents net. Steve Bernier has a knack for scoring dirty goal because of the way he plays and where he goes to on the ice. He did it again today. The Devils need more players doing that. That's how David Clarkson used to score frequently. That's also something that Dainius Zubrus is pretty good at, and its no secreet the Devils miss Big Z up front. In the meantime, someone else has to step up and get there.
I wouldn't say the Devils played terrible, but I certainly wasn't inspired by what they did overall. They piled up some low quality shots early, and couldn't produce any shots late. They did survive some chippy play and cheap shots from various Buffalo players throughout the game and mostly kept their heads about them, but we did see a few guys go into tilt at different times throughout the game. Overall, the Devils still need to play better. They lost to a bottom dwelling team minus its leading scorer mostly because of a few critical and costly errors. Additionally, a continued lack of a quality forecheck, and not enough shots on goal overall or when you need them hurt this Devils team. That's my take on today's game. Now I'm anxious to hear yours. Who did you think was good today? Who did you not like so much? What were some of the key moments in the game? What could the Devils have done better? Thanks for reading.