New Jersey Devils at Buffalo Sabres: Game Preview #76

USA TODAY Sports

The Devils earned a win to keep them in the playoff race last night. Tonight brings another must win against a very beatable team.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 1130 AM

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (31-28-15) at the Buffalo Sabres (20-45-9 SBN Blog: Die By The Blade)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils faced the Florida Panthers last night and earned a much-needed 6-3 win. While it looks like an easy victory, the win involved a goalie change, a 3-2 lead and a 4-3 win. On the positive side, we got to see Travis Zajac score his first career hat trick and a first period with 18 shots to the Panthers four.

The game started with Brodeur in net, and the Devils scored just 0:12 in to the game. That was the first of Zajac's three, followed by a Jagr goal and the second Zajac tally of the evening. The first period came to an end after Dmitry Kulikov scored a shorthanded goal with just under three minutes left. During the second, Brad Boyes brought the Panthers within one just 0:50 into the period, but Ryane Clowe seemed to calm things down with his seventh of the season just two minutes later. It wasn't until Brandon Pirri brought Florida within one again three minutes later that Brodeur was pulled in favor of Cory Schneider. Schneider was perfect with the 13 shots he faced while Jacob Josefson scored his first of the season shorthanded and Zajac completed his hat trick about ten minutes into the third period.

It was an exciting game - more exciting than the score implies. You can read John's full recap here.

The Last Sabres Game: The Sabres last played on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They fell 4-3 in overtime to earn their first point in four games. It was a night to celebrate Dominik Hasek as he was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame. The excitement of the night seemed to help the Sabres get to a fast start with goals from Matt D'Agostini and Cody Hodgson, though the Lightning tied the game before the end of the first period. The game stayed tied until the third period until Steven Stamkos found the back of the net - except it was the wrong net, helping the Sabres to a 3-2 lead. Ryan Callahan eventually tied it again for the Lightning and Stamkos made up for his blunder with the overtime winner. You can read the full recap by Andy Boron over at Die By The Blade here.

The Last Devils-Sabres Game: On January 4, the Devils allowed two power play goals and scored just one goal of their own leading to a 2-1 loss the last time they were in Buffalo. I will talk more about this later, but the Devils did not take advantage of the fact that they were playing against the team with the worst record in the NHL. They were undisciplined and put out a sad effort.

Cory Schneider was in net, and there were not many #goalsforcory. Matt D'Agostini and Matt Moulson scored the two Buffalo goals. Tyler Myers was suspended for three games due to a nasty heat to Dainius Zubrus. It seemed that Michael Ryder had scored just as the ref blew the whistle from the Myers hit, so it was a no-goal. While that was frustrating, New Jersey made it up (for the moment) when Ryder scored during the following 5-n-3. It was a frustrating effort in what was looked at as a must-win. You can read John's full recap here.

The Goal: There is no team in the NHL that has played as poorly this season than the Buffalo Sabres. The team above them, the Edmonton Oilers, have 12 more points than the Sabres. Only Toronto (1-9-0) has played more poorly than the Sabres (1-8-1) in their last ten games. The Devils need to take advantage of their opponent. The Devils did that at times last night, but they can't afford to let the Sabres back into the game over and over again like they did against the Panthers last night.

They're fresh: While the Devils are coming off of a home game against the Panthers, the Sabres haven't played since Saturday. They'll be fresh, and while that can be a good thing, they may be unfocused at the start. It will be huge to come into the game ready and push when they start to get tired - they don't play again until Friday.

They made A LOT of trades since we last saw them: The trade deadline was huge in Buffalo, and the Devils haven't seen the Sabres since they traded away many of their best players. One of the biggest trades of the season was sending captain Steve Ott and goalie Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues. In return, Buffalo a few picks and roster players, namely Jaroslav Halak who was then traded to the Washington Capitals a few days later. Their current starting goaltender is Jhonas Enroth, who has given the Devils fits in the past.

Another big trade was sending Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick to the Minnesota Wild. They didn't get much back that should bother the Devils today, so no Moulson is a bonus for tonight.

Some strength: Another move the Sabres made around the trade deadline was claiming Cory Conocher off waivers. He has three goals and three assists in his eleven games with the Sabres this season. Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson are their best forwards. Ennis has 38 points in 72 games (19g, 19a) and Hodgson has 37 (17g, 20a) in 64 games. On defense, Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers are they guys to watch out for. Ehrhoff has 32 points in 72 games (6g, 26a) and Myers has 22 points in 62 games (9g, 13a).

Nolan extended: The team may have a bit of extra energy, as it is their first game since head coach Ted Nolan was extended. Nolan was serving as the team's interim coach since November 13 and led the team to a 73-72-19 record when he coached from 1995-1997. During his first stint with the Sabres, Nolan earned the Jack Adams Award and the team won the Northeast Division. This is one less distraction facing the team, and if they are behind the coach, they will be trying to get him a big win.

Nothing to lose: The Sabres have absolutely nothing to lose tonight. They are almost guaranteed last place in the league, while the Devils are still fighting. Whether or not we think they can make the playoffs, it's worth fighting for seeing as the team is guaranteed the 30th pick in the first round of the draft this summer. This is a game the Devils should win. They have given up too many points to teams they should have dominated, so let's see them give it another go.

Schneider is back: While Brodeur was pulled last night and Schneider played more than half of the game, it is expected that Cory will be back in net tonight. Hopefully he can take his solid play from last night into the game this evening.

Your Take: What do you think the keys to tonight's game are? Do you think the Devils have it in them to win the second game of their back-to-back? What do you think the Sabres will bring with their lineup changing drastically since the last time we saw them? Please leave your thoughts on the game in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and go Devils!

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