Score: Sabres 4 | Devils 1
Shots: Sabres 37 | Devils 42
Sabres Goals: Victor Olofsson (7) (PP), Rasmus Asplund (1), Dylan Cozens (3), Cody Eakin (1) (ENG)
Devils Goals: Nikita Gusev (2)
Plus-1 | Five-On-Five Play
It’s no secret that the Buffalo Sabres have struggled at even-strength this season. Prior to tonight’s contest, the blue-and-gold had gone six consecutive games without scoring more than one goal per-game at five-on-five.
Interestingly enough, the last time the Sabres accomplished that modest feat was in a 4-3 victory over these same New Jersey Devils prior to the team’s respective COVID-19 outbreaks. From an analytics standpoint, Buffalo won the expected-goals battle in this one as well, holding a 53.85-percent xGF share.
There have only been a couple games thus far where the Sabres have either met, or out-performed their expected goal ratio in a given game. Hopefully that trend continues as they try to claw their way out of the bottom of the East Division.
Plus-2 | Ullmark Stands Strong
It probably goes without saying, but this was Linus Ullmark’s best game of the season. He was a mere 19 seconds away from posting his first shutout of the 2020-21 campaign, but the Swedish netminder stopped 41 of the 42 shots he faced, including a handful of high-danger opportunities.
All offseason, fans and pundits alike discussed how Ullmark would need to be outstanding this season in order for the Sabres to remain competitive. Leading up to tonight, his save-percentage of .906 on the year wasn’t up to snuff.
It is a little concerning that three of the five occasions where he’s posted a better-than .910 save-percentage were against New Jersey. Still, he played very well, and was key to securing a much-needed regulation victory.
Hopefully this is the start of an upward trajectory. The Sabres run a very strong scoring suppression system, but for a team that doesn’t consistently produce a lot of offense, the success of said system is predicated to an extent on strong play between the pipes.
Plus-3 | Depth Contributions at Forward
Though the Jack Eichel line struggled, posting an xGF rate of 33.42-percent tonight, the middle-six forward trios were able to pick up the slack (and then some).
The de facto second line of Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, and Dylan Cozens were fantastic, registering one of the team’s two even-strength tallies and posting an xGF rate of 54.47 on the evening. The line of Rasmus Asplund, Cody Eakin, and Kyle Okposo was even better, posting an xGF rate of 74.97-percent.
It was refreshing to see the Sabres middle-six win a game on a night where Eichel’s group wasn’t on their game. As I’ve iterated a few times here, let’s hope this wasn’t just a one-time thing.
The Sabres will square-off with the Devils yet again on Thursday. Puck drop is set for 7:00PM.