Another Home Game: Will Buffalo Continue Their Collapse?
Sabres host Devils for Military Appreciation Night as playoff hopes hang on by a thread.
Buffalo Sabres (33-31-6) vs. New Jersey Devils (45-18-8)
Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY
Radio: WGR 550
SB Nation Devils Blog: All About the Jersey
Know Your Opponent
New Jersey Devils
Record: 45-18-8 | 98 PTS
Division Ranking: 2nd in Metropolitan Division
Last Game: 2-1 OT Loss vs. Minnesota Wild
Last 10: 5-3-2
PP: 19th (20.8%)
PK: 8th (82.3%)
What to Watch
1. Buffalo, What Happened?
This month began as the first meaningful March in over a decade, but, as we have all unfortunately been faced with the reality of the Sabres missing yet another playoff season, we need to examine the evidence.
In short, the Sabres completely fell apart. While it should not be ignored that they had one of the most difficult schedules in the league during the last few weeks, the numbers are atrocious. Buffalo is 2-7-2 this month with - here’s the gut punch - 55 goals against and 28 goals for. In their last four home games, they have given up 26 goals against - a new franchise record that no one asked for. The Sabres have also lost 10 of their last 12 games which is beyond unacceptable. There are several glaring issues, but the easiest one to pinpoint is goaltending. This absolutely needs to be addressed with the addition of Devon Levi and carried into the 2023-2024 season as a must-fix. He cleared immigration yesterday and made it to the morning skate this morning. Levi will likely see ice time very soon (perhaps against Montreal on Monday?), but tonight is unlikely.
It is also no secret that we struggle to win at home for no apparent reason other than, perhaps, psychological and carelessness with the puck. According to head coach Don Granato, “they have been playing with a lot of anxiety...and are not able to do the simple things because of the pressure.” What fans should look for tonight is a rare home win that the team desperately needs to hopefully turn that anxiety around. If they earn the two points, they would have 34 wins on the season - two more than what they took away from the 2021-2022 season.
As of late, Buffalo has been difficult to watch once again - almost reminiscent of the lifeless Sabres of the past - and tonight’s matchup is going to be another difficult one as they face the second-best team in the league in goal differential. Do you believe in miracles? Winning tonight would be one...and so would making the playoffs as they now have just a 1% chance.
2. Previous Games
In their last matchup, against the Minnesota Wild, the Devils lost in overtime with just 1.3 seconds remaining. While that may not seem like such a big deal, there was a key ingredient that got them that far: offense. Minnesota goaltender Filip Gustavsson made an impressive 47 saves to keep his club in the game and eventually snag the two points, but without doing so, the Devils would have easily taken home the win with that offense. With the Sabres’ goaltending woes, this is concerning. The home team will really have to step up the scoring and attempt to channel the Sabres of the first half of the season. One thing in their favor is that they will be donning the goathead tonight! It is the small victories at this point.
Oh, and one more thing: the Devils are going to come out very hungry tonight. If they win (even if it goes into overtime), they will clinch a playoff spot.
3. Hot Players
No surprise here: watch out for Jack Hughes. The center had 10 shots against the Wild, tying a career-high that he just set back in January. He leads his team in goals with 37 in 67 games played and has tallied 44 assists. In his last five games, he has six points (this may seem underwhelming compared to Tage Thompson’s 11 points in five games, but New Jersey is actually winning).
Even the Devils’ fourth line of Nolan Foote, Michael McLeod, and Yegor Sharangovich has been solid with plenty of scoring chances. The Sabres will not want to underestimate this team’s offense.
Jeff Skinner - Tage Thompson - Alex Tuch
JJ Peterka - Dylan Cozens - Jack Quinn
Casey Mittelstadt - Tyson Jost - Victor Olofsson
Zemgus Girgensons - Peyton Krebs - Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin - Henri Jokiharju
Owen Power - Ilya Lyubushkin
Riley Stillman - Jacob Bryson or Kale Clague
Goaltenders: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (expected), Craig Anderson, Devon Levi
New Jersey Devils
Timo Meier - Nico Hischier - Jesper Bratt
Erik Haula - Jack Hughes - Dawson Mercer
Ondrej Palat - Jesper Boqvist - Tomas Tatar
Nolan Foote - Michael McLeod - Yegor Sharangovich
Jonas Siegenthaler - Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves - John Marino
Kevin Bahl - Damon Severson
Goaltenders: Vitek Vanecek, Akira Schmid