Score: Sabres 1 | Devils 3
Shots: BUF 34 | NJD 44
Buffalo Sabres Goals:
1) Olofsson (Mittelstadt, Jokiharju)
New Jersey Devils Goals:
1) Hughes (Mercer, Haula)
2) Boqvist (Sharangovich)
3) Tatar (Hischier, Bratt)
Minus 1: Speed Kills
The Devils started the game as if they were shot out of a cannon. They jumped on the Sabres who looked like they hadn’t yet woken up from a Thanksgiving turkey induced food coma. Particularly, the Hughes-Haula-Bratt line gave Buffalo all they could handle. Jack Hughes took a couple of years to adjust to the NHL game, but he is proving his worth as a number one overall pick. The Sabres escaped the first without any damage done, but Hughes broke through on a perfectly executed 3 on 2 that developed after an offensive zone turnover. The Sabres top line was not able to cash in on their opportunities this night. Unfortunately, the depth scoring couldn’t make up the difference. However, there are some positives from one of the newer lines.
Plus 1: 4th Line Grind
The de-facto 4th line for Buffalo had a very impactful game. Buoyed by the return of Captain Kyle Okposo and the addition of waiver claim Tyson Jost, this line provided a much-needed edge to the Sabres forecheck. They finished every check, created turnovers down low, and created chaos in the Devils’ zone. With Girgensons adding to the relentless pressure, the trio was able to keep the Devils hemmed in their own zone and nearly cashed in on numerous occasions. They contributed 10 shots and Okposo hit the post in the third. For a team looking for some consistency outside of their top players, this was an encouraging sign.
Minus 2: Invest in an Optometrist
The Sabres had not one, but two goals disallowed because the referee blew the play dead despite the puck not being covered by the Devils’ net minder. The first occasion would have tied the game early in the second, and the second would have given the Sabres a chance to tie it up late in the 3rd. The referee is supposed to blow the play dead when they lose sight of the puck. One mistake is understandable, but two in the same game shows a deficiency in the health care system provided by the NHL. Modern medical miracles called contacts exist, and the NHL should make sure that eye corrective care is provided for all officials in the next CBA. To be clear, I’m joking. This game was not lost due to these non-goals, but they were certainly a gut punch for a team trying to rebound from a disastrous November. Maybe the hockey gods will be kinder to Buffalo in the future, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
This game was closer than the score or the shot totals will show. The Sabres weathered the early Devils’ surge in the first with some great goaltending from Anderson. After that, Buffalo was able to match New Jersey’s speed and limited their neutral zone turnovers. If a couple of bounces went the Sabres way, this could have been a completely different game. That being said, New Jersey has been the hottest team in the league over the last month and the Sabres were able to complete with them most of the night. Moral victories feel empty after so many years of disappointment, but this team is not as far away as their record may show. Patience is a virtue. The wins will come.