The New Jersey Devils skated into the First Niagara Center to take on the Buffalo Sabres tonight. At first glance, the chips appeared stacked against the Sabres. Not only is Buffalo dead last in the NHL, they were also coming off back to back losses, with only 1 goal scored in the 2 games. The Sabres were also missing regular skaters Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford, Ville Leino, and Henrik Tallinder.
The one stat in the Sabres favor? They have been red-hot at home, with 5 straight wins. After a narrow 2-1 victory over the Devils, it is now 6 straight.
The game had a sluggish start in the first period, with little action. The Sabres embarked on a power play with 8 minutes left, but were very listless with the advantage. With 5 minutes to go in the period, John Scott took a holding penalty, but the Devils could not generate any opportunities with their chance either. Entering the game, the Sabres were on a roll with their penalty killing, only allowing 1 goal in the last 17 penalty kills. The first period ended with no goals from either team.
Play started to pick up in the 2nd period. 6 minutes into the period, the Sabres earned their first great scoring chance when Johan Larsson fed a beautiful bounce pass off the boards to Steve Ott. Unfortunately, Ott did not take a shot when he drove into the zone, which was followed by a couple useless passes until Jamie McBain sent the puck right into New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider.
A minute later, the Devils had a chance of their own. Marek Zidlicky robbed Mike Weber of the puck at the blue line, then fed an excellent pass to Mike Sislo, who could not solve Ryan Miller.
The next opportunity swung back to the Sabres, when Linus Omark snagged a behind-the-back pass from Brian Flynn, then sent a perfect saucer pass back to a streaking Flynn on a give-and-go. Schneider stayed strong, denying a goal.
With 4 minutes to go in the 2nd period and Buffalo on a power play, they give up a 2-on-0 shorthanded breakaway to the Devils, but Ryan Miller was there to prevent Adam Henrique from getting the Devils on the board. The Sabres then rushed the puck back up the ice, but the power play was uneventful. Just after the New Jersey penalty expired, the Devils decided to send Buffalo right back to the man advantage with another penalty. This time, the Sabres made them pay.
Buffalo ramped up their energy and effort on the ensuing advantage, generating a couple excellent scoring chances. After cycling the puck a pair of times, Matt Moulson roofed a puck that was loose in front of the net, putting the Sabres up 1-0 to end the frame. Tyler Ennis and Christian Ehrhoff earned helpers on the Moulson goal.
Buffalo dominated the physical side of this game, ending with a 34-15 hit advantage. This was evidenced by a huge hit that Mike Weber laid onto Andrei Loktionov, which prompted Ryan Clowe to drop the gloves against Weber in a weak fight. Then, the Sabres made a couple poor choice.
While clinging to their 1-0 lead, Buffalo took a boneheaded too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, which was followed by a vicious Tyler Myers elbow directly to the head of former Sabre Dainus Zubrus. Don’t be surprised if Myers earns himself a suspension from the league for the hit.
With Zubrus crumpled on the ice, the Devils appeared to score on the play. Yet, the goal was disallowed, as the whistle had blown the play dead once the refs saw Zubrus laying on the ice with a possible injury. The Devils promptly tied the game with the 5-on-3 advantage, spoiling a potential Miller shutout, as Michael Ryder capitalized on a puck that came to him as he was parked next to the Sabres net.
Then, the Devils decided to make their own poor choice. When Zubrus returned to the ice, with the game tied, he decided to attempt revenge on Myers, taking an interference penalty by tossing Myers into the Sabres goal. This ended up being a costly decision.
On the ensuing Buffalo power-play, Matt D’Agostini netted himself a goal that was eerily similar to the Moulson goal, shoveling home a loose puck right in front of the Devils net. The entire goal was set up by a great individual effort by Steve Ott, who won a faceoff, then controlled the puck behind the net, until driving directly in front with the puck and creating the chaos that caused the goal. The Sabres then held on the rest of the way for the victory.
Buffalo plays next on Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes, and will be looking to move their home win streak to 7.