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.
The Matchup: The Edmonton Oilers (4-8-2) take on the New Jersey Devils (4-10-2) at the Prudential Center. This is their first and only meeting of the season.
The Last Oilers Game: The Detroit Red Wings blew out the Oilers, 6-2, last night at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings built a 5-0 lead through two periods, marking the second straight game the Oilers allowed five goals. Dustin Penner and Theo Peckham scored third period goals to break the shutout.
The Last Devils Game: The Buffalo Sabres stole one away from the Devils, 5-4, in a shootout Wednesday night at the Prudential Center. The Devils held three leads in the game, but let each slip away. Tyler Ennis scored in the third period to tie the game, and the teams remained scoreless through regulation and the overtime period. Thomas Vanek put the Sabres ahead in the shootout, but Jamie Langenbrunner answered right back. In the fourth round, with the teams tied at 1-1, Derek Roy beat Johan Hedberg to give the Sabres the 2-1 advantage. Ilya Kovalchuk had the chance to keep the Devils in the game, but he lost the puck on his attempt and never got a shot off on Jhonas Enroth.
The Last Oilers – Devils Game: The Oilers defeated the Devils, 2-0, last season in Edmonton. Gilbert Brule broke a scoreless tie at 1:23 of the second period, giving the Oilers a 1-0 lead. Marc Pouliot pushed the lead to 2-0 with a goal at 8:28 of the third period. Jeff Deslauriers stopped 22 shots for the shutout.
For a look at the overall matchup between the two franchises, including historical stats, check our season preview post.
Marty Returns! Martin Brodeur will start tonight’s game after missing two and a half games due to an elbow injury. After what happened two years ago, I’m glad to see him coming back so quickly. Hedberg didn’t do terribly in the relief appearances, but it’s not the same without MB30 between the pipes.
Tonight’s Matchup: The Devils had their offense rolling Wednesday night, but they forgot the defense. That led to those three blown leads and a shootout loss. The number one objective tonight needs to be putting together a solid defensive effort. If they can repeat the offensive output from Wednesday and play some better defense, then the Devils would set themselves up for a win. But we’ve been asking for a complete game from end-to-end all season, and we’ve only seen that happen four times. Every Devils mistake is becoming a goal right now, so the Devils need these complete games to get their game going.
The Oilers, like the Sabres, should provide a confidence boost and the opportunity for at least a point. In their past two games, Edmonton has been outscored 13-3 while looking absolutely terrible. They’re last in the Western Conference, and while the Devils sit in the same position, I think New Jersey looks like the team more likely to break their skid. The Devils outrank the Oilers in almost every significant category, including goals against and shots for. The Devils need this win, especially on home ice, to inspire confidence and let them know that their offensive efforts are paying off.
New Jersey is still looking for their first home win as well. It’s killing me that they’re this terrible at The Rock. The fans are continuing to come out, and Wednesday night was a loud game. The Devils need to reward their fans and get something going on home ice. The Oilers are the perfect team to help get the Devils going in the right direction.
Langenbrunner will not play tonight with an upper body injury. Brian Rolston will return to the lineup.
Gametime is 7 p.m., and you can watch the game on MSG Plus or listen on WFAN 660 AM. Also, make sure to check out our live game thread, beginning at 6:45! Here’s a guess at tonight’s starting lineup:
FORWARDS: Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Alexander Vasyunov; Patrik Elias – Jason Arnott – Patrik Elias; Brian Rolston – Dainius Zubrus – David Clarkson; Rod Pelley – Adam Mair – Stephen Gionta
DEFENSEMEN: Colin White – Henrik Tallinder; Andy Greene – Anton Volchenkov; Olivier Magnan – Matt Taormina
GOALIES: Martin Brodeur; Johan Hedberg
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.
The Matchup: The Buffalo Sabres (4-9-2) face off against the New Jersey Devils (4-10-1) at the Prudential Center. This is the third of four meetings between the two teams this season. The teams have split the season series so far, 1-1-0.
The Last Sabres Game: Buffalo defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-2, in a shootout Saturday. Trailing, 2-0, in the second period, Buffalo began their comeback. Derek Roy scored his seventh goal of the season at 18:56 of the period to cut the deficit in half. Jochen Hecht scored his first goal of the year with 14 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, 2-2. After a scoreless overtime, the teams moved to a shootout. Thomas Vanek scored in the second round, but John Mitchell answered right away in the third. Tyler Ennis would play hero, scoring the game-winning shootout goal in the fifth round. Jhonas Enroth finished with 23 saves for his first win of the season.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils were blanked by the Rangers, 3-0, Friday night at the Prudential Center. Brandon Dubinsky began the scoring, giving the Rangers a lead, 1-0, at 7:35 of the first period. Brian Boyle extended the lead, putting the Rangers ahead by two with a powerplay goal at 19:24 of the second period. Dubinsky would strike again, netting his second goal of the game with a shorthanded tally at 3:41 of the period. That put the Rangers ahead, 3-0, and ended any hope of a Devils win. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 33 shots for the shutout.
The Last Sabres – Devils Game: The Sabres blew out the Devils, 6-1, at the Prudential Center on October 23. Drew Stafford and Tyler Meyers staked the Sabres to a lead, 2-0, after the first period. The Sabres blew it open in the second period, scoring three goals and chasing starter Johan Hedberg from the game at the 8:17 mark of the period. Vanek recorded two goals in the win.
A Battle of Backups: When the Sabres and Devils square off, it’s usually a battle of the great goaltenders. That’s the matchup we watched in the first meeting, when Martin Brodeur out-dueled Ryan Miller. With both goalies ailing, the teams will rely on their backups to bring them a win.
Tonight’s Matchup: The Devils did what we asked from them in their last game. They thoroughly outplayed the Rangers, but a few mistakes and bad bounces cost them the game. They need to replicate that same effort tonight. It should be a welcome sight that Ryan Miller won’t be between the pipes Buffalo, giving the shooters more confidence, something this team desperately needs.
One of the Devils beat writers spoke at length about the power of positive thinking, especially within the Devils locker room. The team needs to keep a positive attitude throughout this entire ordeal. We’ve all been stuck in a rut or, in my case, played on terrible sports teams. It’s difficult to not let frustration creep in and dictate the style of play, etc. If the Devils continue to create opportunities, it should pay off. But, then again, how many times have we said that this season…
I would like to see another strong start by the team today. Put shots on net, generate turnovers, and keep the pressure on Buffalo. This is a team just as fragile as the Devils right now. If the Devils can get to them early, they may cause Buffalo to let frustration set in first. That could lead to more chances, and, God willing, more goals.
Gametime is 7 p.m., and you can catch all the action on MSG Plus. Also, join us for a live game blog tonight, beginning at 6:45 p.m.! Here’s tonight’s potential line combinations:
FORWARDS: Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Jamie Langenbrunner; Patrik Elias – Jason Arnott – Mattias Tedenby; Dainius Zubrus – Rod Pelley – David Clarkson; Alexander Vasuynov – Adam Mair – Stephen Gionta
DEFENSEMAN: Henrik Tallinder – Andy Greene; Alexander Urbom – Olivier Magnan; Matt Taormina – Anton Volchenkov
GOALIES: Johan Hedberg, Martin Brodeur