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Sabres come out flat, fall to New Jersey

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In the second half of a back-to-back, Buffalo put together a very lackluster effort against a hobbled Devils squad

New Jersey Devils v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Score: Devils 5 | Sabres 3

Shots: NJD 37 | BUF 33

Sabres Goals: Curtis Lazar (3), Rasmus Dahlin (1), Rasmus Ristolainen (2)

Devils Goals: Michael McLeod (2, 3), Andreas Johnsson (2), Miles Wood (4, 5)

Minus-1 | Poor Defensive Play

In what was probably the worst performance we’ve seen from the Buffalo Sabres this season, defensive breakdowns told the story (both in terms of frequency, and severity). While Carter Hutton could have been a lot better individually, he got no help from his blueliners.

In a game where the New Jersey Devils dominated nearly 68-percent of the expected goal share, Hutton was frequently left on his own. This was specifically the case on two breakaways from Michael McLeod and Miles Wood, both of which were converted for goals.

Most of New Jersey’s chances, and all of their tallies came from high-danger areas. It’s probably not an exaggeration to call this the Sabres’ worst defensive outing since Ralph Krueger took over behind the bench.

Minus-2 | They Still Aren’t Finishing

Though the Sabres’ scoring opportunities were far less frequent in this contest, there were still a few instances where the Buffalo forwards simply failed to convert. This is especially problematic when you consider the fact that Devils’ netminder, Eric Comrie came into this afternoon’s contest with a career save-percentage of .868 at the NHL level.

For a team that has done a pretty good job of maintaining a strong expected-goal share in nearly every contest so far, the Sabres were simply dominated in that regard. Obviously, they are missing Sam Reinhart, but New Jersey was missing their fair share of roster regulars as well, including Kyle Palmeri.

The thing about this contest that stood out the most was how poorly the Sabres handled a speedy New Jersey forecheck. They were overwhelmed by the pace, and aggression, which led to tentative play at both ends of the ice.

Minus-3 | Time to Re-Examine the Lineup

With Reinhart sidelined, Krueger elected to stack his lines, moving Jeff Skinner up to flank Eric Staal on line two. This resulted in a very poor expected-goal share for the bottom-six forward group.

Compounding on that issue over the past couple games has been the presence of Kyle Okposo. Since returning to the lineup, no Sabres forward has produced a lower xGF rating than his mark of 27.3-percent. The Eakin line was producing positive overall metrics before Okposo was thrust onto it.

Given the fact that Tage Thompson has struggled similarly this season, the answer may have to come from Rochester. If Okposo’s struggles this season continue, the organization should strongly consider moving Arttu Ruotsalainen up to see if he can represent an improvement.

At this point, it’d be almost impossible for him not to.

Minus-4 | The Road Only Gets More Difficult From Here

It’s probably not a stretch to call the Devils the worst team in the East Division. At best, bottom-three. With teams like the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, and Washington Capitals coming up next on the docket, a failure to secure four points against the Devils is concerning.

Over the last three games, the Sabres don’t look like the forechecking powerhouse (that still couldn’t finish) they did to start the 2020-21 campaign. Hopefully they get Reinhart back in the lineup soon, because the type of play we saw today isn’t going to cut it in a very close, competitive East Division.