Devils’ defensive system works again as New Jersey sweeps season series
The Sabres fell 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils Monday evening despite a fantastic performance in net by Robin Lehner. The Sabres’ goaltender stopped 37 of 39 shots faced against a Devils team that controlled the puck with ease. This was a vintage performance by the stingy New Jersey squad, allowing a mere 23 shots on Cory Schneider. Coming into the contest, the Devils had dropped their last eight games on home ice.
The first period was extremely sloppy, with only 16 registered shots on net total. Despite the lack of offense, both teams tried to establish a physical game as the bodies began to fly early. Nic Deslauriers dropped the gloves just seven minutes in, responding to a heavy hit on Tyler Ennis. The Sabres were able to apply some pressure in the Devils’ end in dwindling seconds of the first period, Schneider held strong, leading his team into intermission with the game still tied at 0.
An already chippy affair escalated in the second period when Zemgus Girgensons took a huge hit during a transition pass at center ice. A scrum ensued, leading giving New Jersey their first power-play opportunity of the evening. Evander Kane was sent to the box for retaliating on the hit. Adam Henrique capitalized on the opportunity, giving his team a 1-0 lead at 8:46, which they would hold onto throughout the middle frame.
With this critical game still well within reach, Sabres fans had their collective fingers crossed entering the third as they hoped for another show of late game heroics. At 8:39, Tyler Ennis tied the game with a flukey goal from behind the goal line, which snuck between Schneider’s pads. The goal was Ennis’ third of the year.
Just four minutes later, Evander Kane went to the box for the second time for a high stick against Taylor Hall in the Devils’ zone. Young star Pavel Zacha capitalized by a rebound from Lehner’s glove, and put his team back in front with just under eight minutes remaining in regulation. The Sabres pulled Lehner with under two minutes left, though they were unable to establish anything with the extra skater.
“As I’ve said, as we’ve said, it’s up to us in this room to get things going” said Lehner. “We didn’t get things going.”
The Devils maintained their reputation as a shut-down defensive squad, thwarting a majority of offensive rushes by the Sabres throughout. Coach Dan Bylsma said pre-game that the contest would likely be low scoring, and he was absolutely right.
The Sabres continue to puzzle fans with their Jekyll-Hyde performances. Just two nights ago, they simply dominated a superior Senators team to a tune of 4-0. Against New Jersey, who ranks fifth last in the NHL in goals for, and like the Sabres have struggled to stay above .500, Buffalo failed to look like a cohesive unit. Tape-to-tape passes were few and far between tonight, while the blueliners left a lot to be desired in their own zone. The Sabres would have to finish 20-7-3 to have the same amount of points as last year’s 3rd place team in the Atlantic division. That’s a pretty tall task for a team that just got doubled up I shots by a middling team.
The Sabres will need to forget this ugly performance quickly as they take on the San Jose Sharks tomorrow night at the KeyBank Center. Puck drops at 7pm.