The Buffalo Sabres have fallen back to their old ways, finding themselves on a losing streak for the first time in ten contests after a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Devils tonight inside First Niagara Center.
Penalties were the culprit for Buffalo’s demise. The Devils had a staggering seven power play opportunities to Buffalo’s pair, and New Jersey found the back of the net twice with the man advantage.
“Some of [the penalties] were suspect, but they were bad penalties,” head coach Lindy Ruff said in his post-game press conference.
The Sabres appeared as if they were ready to go blow-for-blow with the Devils from the early goings. Both teams had their own sequences of sustained pressure in the opposite zone in the first period, and finished with eight shots apiece. Of course, with few notable scoring chances that came with them, it was a video package of Sabres players giving Valentine’s Day advice on the jumbo tron that got the biggest reaction from the crowd for most of the first period.
That was until the final minute when New Jersey made good on their second power play opportunity. The Devils coasted through the Sabres defense with brilliant passing and Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 23rd of the year on an easy shot at 19:24.
Buffalo didn’t respond with much vivacity. Before they broke the tie late in the second period, the Sabres wasted a variety of early scoring chances, posed no threat on a listless power play, and took an additional two penalties just over five minutes apart at one point.
In the final three minutes of the second, the fans inside First Niagara at last had a reason to get out of their seats and cheer. After several Sabres crowded the New Jersey trapezoid chasing for the puck, Jason Pominville snapped a short wrist shot from nine feet past Martin Brodeur to lift the Sabres onto the scoreboard.
Pominville’s 21st on the season finished as Buffalo’s lone tally on the night, while New Jersey added a trio throughout the final period.
It began from a meltdown at the end of the second, where Buffalo took another pair of penalties, but not even two minutes apart. The latter was a cross-checking call on Mike Weber as time expired in the frame.
Despite surviving the 5-on-3 situation, Buffalo couldn’t hold down the fort on the following New Jersey power play. Petr Sykora fired a shot from the left circle which soared over Ryan Miller’s shoulder and into the net to reclaim the Devils’ lead.
New Jersey’s third came nearly midway through the period when a rush into the Buffalo zone featured Kovalchuk out-race his Sabres defender and tap in a pass from Adam Henrique past a helpless Miller, notching his second goal on the night.
The Sabres made an attempt to battle back down the stretch, but a tripping penalty on Derek Roy with under two minutes left all-but sealed the New Jersey victory. With less than 9 seconds on the clock, Kovalchuk netted an empty netter to secure a hat trick and put the Devils back in the win column following a two-game slide.
The loss marked Buffalo’s third game in a row where they’ve scored two or less goals, and their second in a row where they’ve only found the back of the net once. It’s a disheartening turn of events after looking back a week ago when the Sabres dismantled the Boston Bruins in a 6-0 shutout, and a few days later rallied to win in a shootout over the New York Islanders 4-3.
It was also Lindy Ruff’s first game back behind the bench following his injury during practice last week Monday.
“It was fine,” Ruff said of being back in command at ice level, “I feel good. I feel better than I thought I would feel.”
Ruff will return to action along with the Sabres this Thursday when they travel to Philadelphia to meet with the Flyers. The puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 EST from the Wells Fargo Center.