Devils 2013 Schedule Preview: Buffalo Sabres
With the lockout done and the schedule for this shortened season already decided, The Devils’ Den will give you an in-depth look at the team’s opponents this season. We kicked things off with a look at the Boston Bruins, and we’ll continue today with a preview of the Buffalo Sabres.
Last year was supposed to be the year in Buffalo.
New owner Terry Pegula, not afraid to open up the checkbook, brought in Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino and Robyn Regehr. Doling out the cash, however, didn’t match the lofty expectations fans and analysts had for this team. They spent most of the year at the bottom of the conference, and only a late-season surge saved them from being a complete bust.
On top of their struggles, opponents exposed Buffalo’s lack of grit. In the most glaring example, Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic bowled over Ryan Miller in open ice, and no one on the Sabres responded.
This offseason, Pegula added that toughness, bringing in the likes of John Scott, Steve Ott. The Sabres also kept Patrick Kaleta, re-signing their in-house enforcer.
There were no changes this season despite the failure to reach the playoffs. Will this be coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier’s last chance to bring the team deep in the playoffs?
After going 1-2-1 against the Sabres during the 2010-2011 season, New Jersey skated away with an above-.500 record against the Northeast division opponents last season. The Devils went 3-0-1, scoring at least three goals in three of the four meetings. They also swept the two road games, beating Buffalo by a combined 9-4 on the road.
Devils – 5, Sabres – 3: November 16, 2011 @ First Niagra Center
Special teams dominated the first meeting between the two clubs. New Jersey kicked off the scoring, with Zach Parise scoring a shorthanded goal. Ilya Kovalchuk followed up with a powerplay tally, staking the Devils to a 2-0 lead. Tyler Myers responded, netting an extra man tally of his own to close out the first period.
New Jersey took control after that, with Mark Fayne, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson netting even-strength goals. Myers would net another score, and Jordan Leopold also added a tally for Buffalo. Martin Brodeur stopped 29 shots for the win. Jhonas Enroth started the game for Buffalo, but was pulled after allowing the five scores on just 19 shots. Drew MacIntyre stopped the only two shots he faced.
Devils – 3, Sabres – 1: December 28, 2011 @ Prudential Center
Petr Sykora dominated the second matchup between the two teams. He scored the Devils first two goals of the game, becoming the second player in the season series to record a multi-goal game. Parise also chipped in another score. Thomas Vanek netted the lone goal for Buffalo. Brodeur won his second straight game over Buffalo, stopped 22 of 23 shots. Miller took the loss, stopping 20 of 23 shots.
Sabres – 2, Devils – 1: January 24, 2012 @ Prudential Center
Miller turned in a vintage performance, helping Buffalo snap a two-game losing streak to New Jersey. Leopold struck first, staking Buffalo to a one-goal advantage in the first period. Elias tied the game in the second period, a score that would stand throughout regulation and overtime. Miller allowed Kovalchuk to score first in the shootout, but shut the door the rest of the way. Jason Pominville and Nathan Gerbe beat Brodeur in the final two rounds of the shootout to give Buffalo the win. Miller stopped 27 of 28 shots, and three of four shooters in the shootout. Brodeur recorded 13 saves in the loss, and went just 2-for-4 in the skills competition.
Devils – 4, Sabres – 1: February 14, 2012 @ First Niagra Center
The season series ended on Valentine’s Day, and Kovalchuk provided Devils fans with the perfect gift. The right-winger recorded a hat trick, netting goals on powerplay, even strength and into an empty net. Sykora also scored for the Devils, who won both games in Buffalo. Pominville tallied the lone goal for the Sabres. Brodeur turned in his best performance of the season series, stopping 29 of 30 shots. Miller made 27 saves in the loss.
This Season’s Matchup
The Sabres failed to strengthen their center position this season. They’ll rely on the tiny Tyler Ennis, sophomore Cody Hodgson and the recently-acquired Ott. They could keep hot prospect Mikhail Grigorenko around. The 12th overall pick this past summer, he’s lighting up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, with 50 points (29g, 21a) in just 32 games. With a thin offensive corps, he could quickly become a valuable part of the offense.
Buffalo’s blueline has the potential to be one of the best in the league. Myers burst on the scene three years ago, tallying 48 points and looking like a franchise cornerstone. In the two seasons since, however, he’s compiled just 60 points and became a healthy scratch. Now in his fourth season, Myers will need to step up and join the ranks of Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty.
Ehrhoff will never be a shutdown defender, but Buffalo would certainly like a rebound season. Last year he collected 47 points – the second lowest point total of his career.
Miller is still an elite goalie, but his numbers have been down the past two seasons. When he won the Vezina Trophy in the 2009-10 season, Miller posted a sparkling .929 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average. Since then, he’s posted back-to-back .916 save percentages, and his goals-against average was up over 2.50 in both seasons. Like many of the Sabres players, people in Buffalo will expect him to rebound and return to the top of goalie pack.
The Devils and Sabres face off three times during this shortened season. They kick off the series in March, with each team hosting one game. They finish off at the First Niagra Center in April.
Buffalo defenseman led the offense against New Jersey last season. Leopold and Myers scored 57 percent of the team’s goals (4-of-7) and accounted for 31 percent of the total points (5-of-16).
Not only did Brodeur lead New Jersey to three wins over Buffalo, he also recorded two assists against the Sabres.
Elias led all Devils scorers with six points (2g, 4a) against Buffalo last season. He has 37 career points (9g, 28a) in 51 games against the Sabres.