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?
Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Today, we the preview this season’s matchup with the Buffalo Sabres.
Usually, the Buffalo Sabres stay out of the limelight during the offseason. But since late last year, the only successful team from the Buffalo area made a ton of noise. First, billionaire Terry Pegula purchased the team, brining a wealthy owner to a usually frugal team. They made some noise in the playoffs, but lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. That would be one of their only disappointments.
With Pegula backing the team, Buffalo went on an offseason spending spree. They became, for the first time in recent memory, big spenders. Nobody was surprised; Pegula promised to pay for a quality team. An already good team added some key pieces. It’ll be a different team on the ice taking on New Jersey this season.
The History Behind The Matchup
The Devils have faced the Sabres 132 times, and haven’t fared well against them. New Jersey is 47-65-3 with 17 ties, allowing 448 goals against, or 3.39 goals per game. They’ve only scored 380 goals against Buffalo, good for 2.88 goals per game.
The two teams faced off four times last season, with New Jersey compiling a 1-2-1 record. They first met on October 13 in a game that became a duel between Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller. Both goalies stood on their heads, matching each other save for save. In overtime, rookie Matt Taormina set up Ilya Kovalchuk for a game-winning one-timer deep in the Sabres zone. The puck rang off the crossbar before finding it’s way to the back of the net. That marked the first win of John MacLean’s coaching career. Too bad he wouldn’t lead the team to many more.
Buffalo evened the series just 10 days later, blowing out the Devils, 6-1, at the Prudential Center. Drew Stafford started the scoring, giving Buffalo a 1-0 lead at 6:57 of the first period. Tyler Myers extended the lead to 2-0 at 16:33 of the opening frame. They poured it on in the second period, scoring three times. Tyler Ennis pushed the Sabres’ lead to 3-0 at 3:10 of the middle period. Patrick Kaleta stretched the lead to four at 8:17 of the period, chasing starter Johan Hedberg.
Brodeur couldn’t stop the bleeding. Thomas Vanek made it 5-0 at 18:12. Vanek scored again in the third period, making it 6-0. Zach Parise broke the shutout, scoring at 11:25 of the period. Miller finished with 26 saves. The game was more known for the infamous benching of Kovalchuk.
The teams played another high scoring game on November 10, with Buffalo winning, 5-4, in a shootout. Jason Arnott opened the scoring, putting the Devils ahead, 1-0, at 10:12 of the first period. That lead wouldn’t last. Jason Pominville tied the game, 1-1, at 5:22 of the second period. Derek Roy wasted no time in giving Buffalo the lead, scoring 13 seconds later to give his team a 2-1 advantage. The Devils answered right back. David Clarkson tied the game, 2-2, at 7:58 of the middle period. Arnott struck again, giving the Devils a 3-2 lead at 12:01.
The see-saw battle would continue. Myers evened the score, 3-3, at 13:50 of the second period. Jamie Langenbrunner responded, putting the Devils ahead, 4-3, at 18:01 of the second period. New Jersey once again failed to hold their lead. Ennis tied the game at four at 8:54 of the third period. Both teams moved to the shootout, where Vanek and Langenbrunner both scored. Roy put his team ahead, and set up one of the worst moments for Kovalchuk this season:
Jhonas Enroth stopped 28 shots for the win. Hedberg stopped 38 in the loss.
Ilya Kovalchuk’s first goal of the season gave the Devils a 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres tonight at the HSBC Center.
Rookie defenseman Matt Taormina began the play, causing a turnover in the Sabres zone. He passed the puck to Kovalchuk, who went to one knee and blasted a slapshot from the left circle. The puck hit off the crossbar and found the back of the net for the game-winning goal.
The Devils outshot the Sabres, 10-6, in the third period. They lead in shots, 32-22.
Miller answered with another nice save at 5:10 of the period. Langenbrunner received the puck on the doorstep, but Miller stacked the pads and made the save.
Brodeur made two nice saves to keep the game scoreless at 13:38 of the third period. Thomas Vanek took a sharp-angle shot that Brodeur saved. He left a rebound that was whacked at the net, and Brodeur turned that attempt away.
So far tonight, Brodeur has made 20 saves.
The Devils lead the third period in shots, 6-2. They’ve put 32 shots on Miller tonight.
The Devils have created some great chances in this period. Adam Mair almost burned his former team, but sent a one-timer wide of Miller at 2:52 of the period.
The Sabres almost scored a fluke goal only 53 seconds into the period. Dainius Zubrus came off the ice on a bad line change, giving Buffalo a 3-on-2 opportunity. Roy sent the puck towards the net, and Brodeur had to dive to his right as the puck bounced wide of the net.
Buffalo outshot the Devils, 15-11, in the second period. Devils still lead in shots, 26-16.
Interesting stat: The Devils and Sabres combined for three goals or less in three of the four meetings last season.
The Devils are 0-for-3 on the powerplay tonight. They’ve created some great chances, but in a scoreless game, those missed opportunities get frustrating.
Buffalo is outshooting the Devils, 9-5, at 10:28 in the second period.
Martin Brodeur just made a great save at 16:09 of the second period to keep the game scoreless. Derek Roy was able to drive around Devils’ defenseman Andy Greene, and chipped a puck on net. Roy then collected the rebound and put another shot on Brodeur, but the Devils’ goalie stuck the right pad out and made the save.
The Sabres have come out with more jump in this period, and Brodeur has made some great saves to keep this a scoreless game.
The Devils did everything but score in the first period. They outshot the Sabres, 15-2, but Miller was there to make several big saves. As Ken Daneyko just said on the intermission report, that was the Devils best period of hockey this season. But it will be important to see if the Devils can carry this effort. The team has struggled to give a consistent effort for 60 minutes, and it’s one of the reasons why the Devils still lack a win.
Mark Fraser and Cody McCormick dropped the gloves at 12:18 of the first period. Both McCormick and Patrick Kaleta hit Fraser high earlier in the period, and Kaleta went off for a charging penalty. Both landed some good punches, but neither went down and the fight ended in a draw.
The Devils are 0-for-2 on the PP tonight, but it isn’t a lack of chances that’s kept them off the scoreboard. During the Devils last PP opportunity, the team created several chances in front, but Ryan Miller and the penalty killers stood tall and thwarted the Devils opportunities.
Andrej Sekera almost gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead at 12:54 of the first period. Sekera held the puck at the point and faked the shot, getting a Devil to go to the ice. He then ripped a shot on net through a screen, but it rang off the left post.
Early in the first period, the Devils lead the shot category, 6-0. John MacLean ripped into the team for being laissez-faire and not having an air of professionalism. It seems like the team has responded to that criticism.
Here were the starting lineups:
Dainius Zubrus – Adam Mair – David Clarkson; Henrik Tallinder – Andy Greene; Martin Brodeur
Jochen Hecht – Derek Roy – Drew Stafford; Jordan Leopold – Steve Montador; Ryan Miller
The Devils are looking for their first win of the season. The team will only have 16 skaters dressed for tonight because of injuries to Anton Volchenkov (neck, broken nose) and Brian Rolston (sports hernia). Rolston will undergo surgery Thursday to fix the hernia, and will be placed on injured reserve. The Devils will have a full compliment of skaters for Friday’s game against Colorado.
In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I’ll take a look at the Buffalo Sabres, who lead the Northeast Division and sit third in the conference with 90 points. Buffalo, a team that has flown under the radar for most of the season, sport one of the game’s best goaltenders. But can they compete with the top teams in the conference? That question remains to be answered.
The top two lines for the Sabres are very, very good. The top line of Jason Pominville – Derek Roy – Jochen Hecht combine for 59 goals, 90 assists and a plus/minus rating of 34. The second line is even more formidable. Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek control that line, with each player over 15 goals on the season. But, after those top two lines, the performance falls off a bit. Their third line only has one player with a positive plus/minus rating (Patrick Kaleta, 4), and the fourth line sports a combined -25 plus/minus rating. While the Sabres have plenty of goal scorers, they don’t have great two-way forwards. That weakness will hurt them, because good teams will take advantage of a weak backcheck or a defensive breakdown. The top two lines are scary good, but the Sabres lack of forward depth will be an issue come playoff time.
Tyler Myers highlights a relatively unknown defensive unit. Myers, a rookie, impressed several analysts with his solid play this season. The rookie has 42 points (10 G, 32 A) and a plus/minus rating of 12 for the season. While they don’t have many big-name defenseman, the Sabres have an experienced blue line. Four of their six blue-liners have playoff experience, which gives them an advantage. Myers, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman can all contribute offensively, which is an added benefit. But there are cracks in the blue-line. The collective group has a great plus/minus rating (+21), with the third defensive pairing of Steve Montador and Craig Rivet checking in at a -10. The squad has also allowed goalie Ryan Miller to face 1,878 shots, which ranks 13th in the league. Overall, the blue line is a strength for the Sabres. Sure, they have their faults, but they play a solid, responsible game night in and night out.
Miller is one of the top five goalies in the N.H.L. today. His 2.20 goals against average ranks far below the league average. He’s also collected five shutouts on his way to a 37-15-8 record. Without Miller, the Sabres wouldn’t be in the third place. Miller can steal a game or even a series for this team. During the Olympics, the world found out what we already knew: Miller is a world-class goaltender. He’s also got the right attitude as a goalie. You never see Miller get too angry or too worked up during a game. That levelheaded attitude seems to calm the entire team, and he’s the true leader of the Sabres. He’s already set a career-high in wins, and his G.A.A. is the lowest in his career. Clearly, Buffalo’s goalie advantage ranks head and shoulders above some of the teams in the conference.
Overall, the Sabres are a good young team. They have world-class goaltending and a solid blue-line corps. But the weakness comes from the lack of forward depth. After the first two lines, the production and play drops sharply. There shouldn’t be great goal scorers on the third and fourth lines, but these forwards should at least sport solid plus/minus numbers. While it doesn’t show the entire story, the plus/minus rating of the third and fourth lines can spell trouble. If the Sabres have a problem backchecking or defensively, they will be ripe for the picking. But I’d expect this team to make it to the second round, but nothing more.
The Matchup: The New York Rangers (29-28-9) face off against the New Jersey Devils (38-23-3). This is the fifth meeting of the teams this season. Currently, the season series is tied, 2-2.
The Last Rangers Game: The Rangers lost to Buffalo, 2-1, on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Patrick Kaleta scored the overtime winner, and Ryan Miller made 35 saves for the win.
The Last Devils Game: This was certainly one to forget, as the Devils were shutout by Edmonton, 2-0, Sunday night. The team barely made goalie Jeff Deslauriers work, and he recorded 22 saves for his second career victory over the Devils.
The Last Rangers – Devils Game: In the last meeting, the Rangers defeated the Devils, 3-1, at Madison Square Garden February 6. The Rangers scored three goals in the second period to take a 3-0 lead. Dainius Zubrus scored a goal in the third, but the Devils couldn’t mount a comeback. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 41 shots for the victory.
Tonight’s Game: The Devils haven’t looked good at all since the break. While we as fans (and even the team) thought the Devils would turn it around, they’ve continued to play terribly in the second period and come out with a lackluster effort. They were shutout by the Edmonton Oilers! Clearly, the Devils need to turn it around. And they seem to step in the right direction yesterday after practice. The players finally admitted they haven’t played well and that they believed everything would go away after the break. Patrik Elias admitted people have sat back and watched Ilya Kovalchuk at times. Zach Parise admitted this slump is unacceptable and that the team needs to pick it up. Finally, the players said what we all wanted them to say for the past few weeks.
But words aren’t going to be enough to turn around this streak. If the Devils want to change their play, they need to do it on the ice. What a better opportunity then going against the hated Rangers. They come into the game sitting outside the playoff picture, and the Rangers have only scored 170 goals this year. But Lundqvist is a Devils killer, compiling a 17-6-5 record in his career over the Devils. The Rangers also bring Marian Gaborik to town, who isn’t 100% but recorded 69 points so far this season (35 goals, 34 assists).
The Rangers aren’t a great team by any means, and the Devils need to impose their will on them. I want to see Lemaire use an aggressive forecheck to try and get some early turnovers. Not only that, but the Devils need to be patient in the offensive zone. The team errantly threw passes to the slot and didn’t possess the puck in Edmonton, allowing the Oilers to gain possession and clear the puck. The team needs to set up and cycle in the zone. The only way to create offense is to skate in the zone and find open areas. The Devils haven’t done that lately, instead letting players try and take on the entire defense. If they can get back to cycling the puck and getting to the dirty areas, this team will have success on the offensive end.
On the defensive side of the puck, Mike Mottau or Colin White need to be benched. I know it won’t happen, but Mark Fraser played very well in the minutes he played. He’s looked better than both Mottau and White, whose weaknesses were exposed with their increased playing time this season. Fraser seems to handle the pressures of the league well, and he’s already scored three goals on the season (including two against Pittsburgh). He doesn’t back down from physical play, either. The rookie deserves to start this game, and either Mottau or White need to sit this one out.
Finally, as tough as it will be, the Devils need to ignore Sean Avery. The Rangers pesky forward seems to always find a way to get under the skin of the Devils. I’m sure everyone on the team wants to hit him, and Kovalchuk actually did in their last matchup:
But Avery succeeds when he takes people off of their game. To be effective, the Devils need to ignore Avery and be physical and aggressive. Let Avery do his thing and, when he needs it, give him a good shove or put him into the boards. But the team shouldn’t go out of its way to beat up Avery. The best way to shut him up is to win the game.
Game time is at 7:00 p.m. Join The Devils’ Den for a live game blog, beginning 15 minutes before the drop of the puck.