So, no Hischier, no Vatanen, no Blackwood, no Dell, no Zajac, no Wedgewood, and now no Palms?
New day, HOT START. Michael McLeod finally got his first NHL goal the other day and he has arrived. Right off the start PK Subban feeds him into a breakaway and he streaks down the ice, beats Carter Hutton and puts the Devils up 1-0 just 20 seconds into the game.
Nikita Gusev, Yegor Sharangovtich and Mihail Maltsev make up a dangerous line— put Ty Smith on the blueline behind them? YEESH. The group along with Damon Severson put up some excellent zone time that included no look passes, Ty Smith dangling a Sabres player from his knees, and more shots on net than our entire 5 on 3 power play yesterday. It hasn’t resulted in a goal yet, but that Russian line is just filthy.
Being on a line with current alternate captain Miles Wood is really rubbing off some on McLeod— as he takes a pass off his foot and immediately crashes into the net. Buffalo takes the puck the other way and tries to get set up in the zone but Murray and Hughes both do an excellent job shutting down Reider and getting the puck away from him and out of the zone.
The Sharango- line returns to the ice and creates another excellent scoring chance as Sharangovitch walks across the goal line into the crease and nearly stuffs it past Hutton before the net comes off its moorings.
Unfortunately on the following shift Kuokkanen clips Jeff Skinner in the face with his stick so we’ll go to the penalty kill and see if it’s improved at all from yesterday. Comrie looks solid so far, crossing the crease and snuffing out a huge shot from Eichel. The McLeod Sharangovitch penalty kill unit starts to get a bit hemmed into the zone but they hold their own and eventually get a few nice clears to finish the kill effectively. The game may be back to even strength but the Sabres have the momentum here and are starting to give the Devils a run for their money.
The fourth line is able to come on and tilt the ice back more evenly, bringing the play back to Hutton and forcing the Sabres to take an icing. The pace of the game, however, is way faster than any Devils game we’ve seen in a long time. If this is Lindy Ruff’s system at work, competing in a game at this pace, I propose we sign him for a lifetime contract right now. This is excellent. Andreas Johnsson tries to join the fun but is tripped up at the blue line trying to enter the zone, so instead we go to the power play (which can’t possibly be worse than yesterday, right?)
Wrong. Multiple offsides, maybe 6 seconds of puck control in the zone, and just a single shot on net. I don’t know what’s going on with our power play, but I think my beer league team could do better than us right now. Fortunately it only lasts two minutes and we’re quickly back to 5 on 5 where we can actually compete. Buffalo takes up most of the remaining few minutes but the Devils do well and Eric Comrie handles the pressure impressively well.
The clock may be winding down but the boys aren’t done with this first period though. Just under 20 seconds left in the game and the Devils force a scramble in front that results in a bouncing puck going in off Andreas Johnsson in front, and the Devils manage to pull out a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission.
Buffalo comes out with some new lines and a new attitude to start the second, and it starts to look like it’ll help: just under two minutes into the period and Kulikov takes a hooking penalty. The Sabres come in flying, open Cormier like a can of beans and Dahlin takes the shot but he crosses the ice like some form of winter grasshopper and makes an unbelievable save to keep the Sabres off the board.
Cormier continues to keep Buffalo off the board through the rest of the kill. Sharangovitch wins a foot race on a slow clear in the waning seconds of the kill, nearly netting a shorthanded goal but is stopped by Hutton. With the penalty officially killed, the Devils return to control of the game. The fourth line takes the ice and who wants to guess what happens?
Yes, that’s right. Miles Wood ends up in the net. Gotta lead by example.
The fourth line’s presence on the ice is pure physicality and brute strength and Buffalo seems to be struggling to handle that style this game. Wood, McLeod, and Bastian can all outmuscle anybody on the ice in a single shift and maintain possession by force for a long time per shift. If you’re a fan of old-time hockey, this line really is something to watch when they get going. It’s exceptionally well suited for playing against the Sabres, who don’t really have a line to match it.
Buffalo attempts to turn the tide and create some zone time for themselves, but Ty Smith does well to shut down a one on one with Jeff Skinner and Kuokkanen move the game the other way. He and Zacha play catch with a few passes that leave Zacha wide open on the side of the net but Zacha’s timing is just half a second off and he flubs the shot off the side of the net.
Buffalo heads back the other way and finds themselves on a 2 on 1, but Comrie makes the stop. Buffalo stays in the zone however and the puck lands on the stick of Rasmus Ristolainen at the point, who sends in a blast for a Lazar tip that Comrie can’t keep up with. Buffalo finds themselves on the board and its 2-1.
Jack Hughes picks right up on the next shift and tries to answer but is snuffed out by Hutton at the doorstep. Back the other way come the Sabres and Smith takes a penalty trying to stop the rush. Back to the penalty kill we go, but unfortunately not for long. The other Rasmus, Dahlin this time, rips a low shot that beats Comrie with an effective Ristolainen shield. Buffalo ties it up at 2-2.
The Devils take the ice looking like they want to regain their lead immediately. Kuokkanen and Zacha look for a repeat of their missed goal from a few minutes earlier but Hutton is ready. Buffalo picks it up a bit more, trying to take the lead. As the seconds tick down, Miles Wood decides he’s not ready to give up this fight. He picks up a loose puck and gets himself a breakaway, takes a hard wrist shot that bounces off Hutton, picks up his own rebound and buries it with just 0.6 seconds left on the clock. The broadcast helpfully noted he just about reached 20mph on that rush from the red line to midway into the offensive zone. Deadly speed. Thanks to his last second—literally—effort, the Devils will go into the second intermission with another lead, this time 3-2.
That last second goal meant we were going to see a first second effort from Buffalo coming out into the third period, and they sure came out fast. Cormier stuffed Taylor Hall on a rush, then made another couple saves to keep us in the lead. Going back the other way and the Devils draw a slashing penalty, putting us onto what could be an extremely pivotal powerplay at this point of the game.
The PP1 manages the zone time but can’t manage the shots, moving almost a bit in slow motion which leaves their passes open for interference. As PP2 attempts to come out, the Devils get nailed with a face-off violation for Zacha and Johnsson both jumping the drop, so our remaining minute of man-advantage is wasted, which could actually be a good thing for us since it wouldn’t have been good anyway. Jack Hughes comes out to make that a true statement, stealing the puck off the midst of four Sabres as the rest of the team joins him in the zone and leads up to a blast by Subban. Buffalo comes out of the box for a short one minute power play, which turns out to be all they need. The Sabres start to get just a bit too much of a cycle going and Ristolainen buries a really strange chip in off the right post in over Comrie’s left shoulder somehow. It doesn’t matter how it went in though, only that it did, and the Sabres tie the game at 3-3.
Dahlin and Hughes get tied up just a couple minutes later and Dahlin nearly bear hugs him, drawing yet another powerplay for the Devils. Maybe this time?
Or we could spend the first 50 seconds playing catch behind our own net. Bratt forces the play into the zone with under a minute remaining but Hughes’ shots kept getting blocked, Subban’s missed the net, and so expires yet another ‘advantage’ for the Devils. I may start calling this our unspecial teams.
Back to the 5 on 5, however, and the Devils aren’t ready to give up the zone. Bastian fights for the puck which squirts out to Wood, who taps it to McLeod in the slot before getting murdered by Ristolainen. McLeod gets the shot off and it squeaks through Hutton, giving him his second goal of the game and putting the Devils back on top once again, 4-3.
Rango and the Russians return to the ice to cause some chaos in front of the Sabres net. They’re replaced with the fourth line, which does the same thing. Out comes the top line and what do they do? More chaos. I love the chaos. Hutton does not love the chaos. This line refuses to be pushed out of the zone despite Buffalo’s efforts. Severson rings a shot off the post before the Sabres are able to get the puck out of the zone. A quick change for everyone before the action begins again. The Devils attempt to return to the zone with Zacha’s line but the Sabres bring the pressure into their zone. They’re able to break it up and turn it into a 2 on 1 the other way, leading to a Zacha shot that’s blocked and sent out of play.
With three minutes left in the game, the fourth line returns to the ice, nearly netting another goal for Wood but denied by Hutton. Buffalo pulls their goalie with about 2 minutes left, bringing the tension on the ice and in my living room to a new level. Severson is able to clear the puck but it has too much for Zacha to chase it so we come back down for the icing. Sharangovitch rips a clear just inches wide of the empty net for yet another icing. Next puck drop, Zacha is able to carry the puck into the Sabres zone and the empty net pressure drama ensures. A shot from Zacha goes wide. A shot from Mikhail is blocked. Buffalo just about manages to bring the puck back down the other end before Miles Wood grabs the puck and launches it straight down the ice into the empty net. Second goal for Wood with just a few seconds left, fifth goal for the Devils and they pick up a win finally against the Buffalo Sabres, 5-3.
The fourth line was just MONSTROUS in this game. 10:30 TOI, 62.50 CF%, TEN high danger scoring chances, 6 shots on net for Wood, 3 shots and 6 shot attempts for Bastian, 3 shot attempts for McLeod. 2 goals each for Wood and McLeod. Miles Wood might just need to keep that A on him at all times because he was a leader today. The SuperBuddies look great together once again and seem to be finally blossoming.
Rango and the Russians was also a great line. Just a hair under 50% in the Corsi but Sharangovitch led the team in shot attempts with 7 and Gusev seemed more comfortable today than he has most of this season so far (it’s coming for him guys, don’t worry). Maltsev didn’t show up a ton on the scoresheet but he looked excellent and really drove some of the plays and many of Sharangovitch’s shots.
The top line with Jack Hughes? Excellent! 71.43% CF, 5 high danger scoring chances and zero allowed against the in just under 11 minutes of 5 on 5. 3 shots for Hughes and Bratt, 2 for Johnsson including his second goal in as many games.
Comrie was good! I take back everything I said about him, let’s start him every game.
Okay, maybe not, he’s got some weaknesses especially on plays in tight, but the Devils now actually find themselves in the wonderful position of instead of having one great goalie and three who could maybe play as we all thought we were, we actually have four usable, winnable goalies to our name. Are we going to lose whichever one we end up having to put on waivers? Probably, but I’d much rather be in this position than the one we thought we were in last week. Excellent work, Devils goaltending and scouting departments.
Ty Smith is now (at the moment) the rookie scoring leader in both overall points and assists. He was also fantastic defensively, making several good plays and winding up with a 74.10% CF, the second best on the team behind his partner Damon Severson.
Unspecial teams? Yeah they’re still bad. They’re honestly worse than bad. The penalty kill seems to be improving a bit, but it still isn’t up to snuff. The powerplay is just a waste of time that needs to be completely and totally revamped both in terms of strategy, lines, and also how they practice it since the slow-motion skating and passes just has to stop.
Kuokkanen Zacha and Boqvist? Not great. 30.77% CF, 1 HDCF and 3 against. Generally not noticable despite being tied with Goose’s line for the least ice time at 5v5 with 8:20 TOI. They didn’t allow a goal against though, so I’ll take what I can get from that.
There really wasn’t much to complain about in this game but I would like to add one more thing I know we’ve mentioned before: face-offs. Some were okay today—Zacha for example was over 55%, Maltsev in his first game managed 43%— but Hughes finished with 33%, and McLeod with 31%. Those are not good numbers. Powerplay? Hughes was 1 for 3, Zacha 1 for 2 again. Penalty kill, McLeod was 0/1, Zacha was 2/1. Basically, Zacha is okay, but everyone else needs to pump those rookie numbers up. You can’t score goals without the puck and that’s definitely helping our already stunted unspecial teams.