It seemed like the New Jersey Devils finally woke up tonight. While the defensive play wasn’t great, the team created scoring chances and actually converted them. They scored four goals with a goalie in the net! But home effort would be for nothing. Ilya Kovalchuk‘s failed shootout attempt (more below) would epitomize the Devils season as the team dropped their second game in a row, losing to the Buffalo Sabres, 5-4, in a shootout tonight. The loss extended their home losing streak to seven games.
Who is this #17, and what have you done with the real Kovalchuk?
The Devils spent $100 million dollars and suffered through public humiliation just to re-sign Kovalchuk, who they believed could be a difference maker. But when push came to shove tonight, the left winger once again fell flat on his face.
Kovalchuk’s heard boos during the third period of tonight’s game, when he had the chance to be the hero. The left-winger broke in on a partial breakaway against Sabres third-string goalie Jhonas Enroth, but sent a shot high over the net. But coach John MacLean would give him a chance to redeem himself. With the Devils down, 2-1, in the shootout and facing a loss, MacLean called on Kovalchuk to keep the Devils in the game. With the game on the line, Kovalchuk lost the puck and didn’t even get a shot off on net.
Just like that, Kovalchuk drew the ire of every Devils fan. Through sixteen games, Kovalchuk has three goals and eight points total. When asked if he was frustrated, Kovalchuk replied “I think we all are.”
Kovalchuk needs to find himself – and fast – to start helping this team win.
Derek Roy delivers a win
Roy skated to center ice for his shootout attempt in the fourth period after Jamie Langenbrunner put one past Enroth to knot it up. Calm and collected, Roy collected the puck and broke in on Hedberg. The forward made a beautiful move to bring the puck to his backhand. He fired it past the glove of Johan Hedberg for the game-winning goal in the shootout.
The Sabres Never Say Die
The Sabres were behind the eight ball three times tonight, and each time they came back to tie the game. The best comeback of the night came in the second period, where the Sabres would take a 2-1 lead in 13 seconds.
Jason Pominville tied the game at one with a goal at 5:22 of the second period. Tim Connolly took a shot from the point that Hedberg stopped, but a rebound went to the slot. Pominville collected the rebound and beat the Devils’ goalie for his first goal of the season.
Roy gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead merely 13 seconds later. Roy received a pass from Thomas Vanek and skated the puck over the blue line. He blasted a slap shot from the low slot that beat Hedberg for Roy’s eighth goal of the season.
The Captain backs up his talk
Langenbrunner has been a subject of fan ire for most of the season. Several fans commented the captain could only talk about improvements and attitude, not display it on the ice. But tonight, Langenbrunner proved those doubters wrong. The Devils captain scored a goal in the second period, was taken out hard into the boards but came back to play, and kept the Devils alive in the shootout.
Not only that, but Langenbrunner showed his leadership after Kovalchuk flubbed his shootout attempt. He skated to Kovalchuk first and made sure he knew the team had his back. That may seem insignificant, but support like that in the locker room is huge. I thought it was a big step for Langenbrunner, and he should quiet the critics.
Continue reading the preview after the jump!
Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek scored shootout goals to lead the Sabres over the Devils, 5-4, tonight at the Prudential Center.
Tyler Ennis’ goal at 8:54 of the third period tied the game, 4-4
Tyler Meyers went behind the net to gain a loose puck. He came to the side of net, and Henrik Tallinder came to cover the defenseman. He slid a pass through the crease to Ennis, who had an open net to shoot into for his third goal of the season.
That’s the third lead the Devils coughed up tonight.
Colin White made a great play while shorthanded to deny Jason Pominville of a decent scoring opportunity. With Jason Arnott in the box for hooking, Pominville received a long pass from his own zone. He found a way to spin around White, but the Devils defenseman spun around and knocked the puck off his stick.
There were six goals scored in the second period, including three by the Devils. They can’t seem to score three in a game sometimes.
Jamie Langenbrunner put the Devils back on top, 4-3, at 18:01 of the period.
Henrik Tallinder fed Langenbrunner the puck from the point, and the Devils’ captain took it behind the net. Langenbrunner then spun around in the left circle and put a shot toward the net. The puck caromed in off the skate of Sabres’ defenseman Chris Butler for his third goal of the season.
Meyer’s goal at 13:50 of the second period tied the game, 3-3.
Ex-Devil Rob Niedermayer held the puck along the goal line, and the entire defense came to the puck. The center threaded a pass to Meyers, who pinched down into the left circle. The Sabres’ defenseman had all the time in the world to pick his spot, and beat Johan Hedberg high to the blocker side for his fourth goal of the season.
Jason Arnott’s powerplay goal at 12:01 of the second period put the Devils ahead, 3-2.
With Ennis in the box for hooking, the Devils moved the puck around the point. Andy Greene fed Arnott a puck at the left point, and the center blasted a shot on net. The puck found its way through a screen and past Jhonas Enroth for Arnott’s second goal of the game.
It’s the first multi-goal game for a Devil this season.
David Clarkson’s goal at 7:58 of the second period tied the game, 2-2.
Alexander Vasyunov started the play, carrying the puck down along the side boards and around the back of the net. The rookie shot the puck towards the net, where Clarkson was crashing. The right-winger kept his stick on the ice and deflected the puck past Enroth and into the top of the net for his second goal of the season.
The Sabres scored two goals in 13 seconds to take a 2-1 lead over the Devils.
Roy gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead at 5:35 of the second period. Roy received a pass from Vanek and skated the puck over the blue line. He blasted a slap shot from the low slot that beat Johan Hedberg for Roy’s eighth goal of the season.
Thirteen seconds earlier, Pominville tied the game at 1-1. Tim Connolly took a shot from the point that Hedberg stopped, but a rebound went to the slot. Pominville collected the rebound and beat the Devils’ goalie for his first goal of the season.
Hedberg kept this game scoreless here early in the second period. The Devils made a blind pad save on a shot, and stopped two Buffalo stuff attempts from the side of the crease to keep the Devils ahead.
Arnott’s even-strength goal at 10:12 of the first period gave the Devils a 1-0 lead.
Rookie Mattias Tedenby began the play after creating a turnover in his own zone. He feathered the puck up to Arnott in the neutral zone, who passed the puck to Patrik Elias along the boards. Elias skated the puck down the side boards and blasted a slap shot on net. Enroth made the initial save, but couldn’t stop Arnott as he crashed the net. The center whacked the puck home for his fifth goal of the season.
The assist for Tedenby is his first career NHL point.
The Devils almost pushed the lead to 2-0 at 7:23 of the second period. Dainius Zubrus tripped a man in the Devils zone, but the Sabres kept control of the puck. Enroth made his way to the bench for the extra skater, giving Buffalo an extra skater. An errant pass by the Sabres went through the Devils defensive zone and back down toward their own net. Clarkson, who could not touch the puck, shielded Sabres defenseman Shaone Morrisonn as the puck slowly slid toward the net. But it wouldn’t go in, as the puck trickled wide.
Hedberg came up with a big save to keep the game scoreless. Ennis drove to the front of the net, and looked to have the right side of the net open. Hedberg flashed the pad and made a skate save to deny Ennis and keep the game scoreless.
Ilya Kovalchuk had the first good scoring chance of the night. The left-winger skated through three Sabres defenders, and came alone to the front of the net. Kovalchuk sent the shot wide, however, so it was yet another missed scoring chance for the Devils.
Here were the starting lineups for tonight’s game:
Tim Connolly – Jochen Hecht – Jason Pominville; Jordan Leopold – Steve Montador; Jhonas Enroth
Patrik Elias – Jason Arnott – Mattias Tedenby; Andy Greene – Anton Volchenkov; Johan Hedberg
The Devils continue to look for their first win on home ice tonight against the Buffalo Sabres. This is the third meeting between the two teams this season. They’ve split the season series, 1-1-0. The Sabres won the most recent meeting, 6-1, on October 23.
Both starting goalies are out with injuries tonight, leaving the backups to win the game. Johan Hedberg will get the start for the Devils, his third consecutive game. Jhonas Enroth will start for the Sabres.
Devils rookie right-winger Mattias Tedenby makes his season debut tonight. He’s the eighth Devils rookie to make his season debut this season.
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.