The New Jersey Devils looked to get back on track after getting swept by Philadelphia earlier this week.
After getting off to solid start to the season, the New Jersey Devils have run into a rough patch after dropping two straight to the Philadelphia Flyers. They’d try to get back to their winning ways against the Buffalo Sabres.
However, Travis Zajac was placed on the COVID-19 protocol list, prompting the call-up of Nick Merkley from the taxi squad and mixing up of the lines.
Nathan Bastian was promoted to the top line. The Bratt-Zacha-Gusev line that was on fire last year would make a reappearance. Merkley was placed on the fourth line.
Were these moves enough to get the Devils the win or was Zajac’s absence too significant?
1st period: Missed opportunity
The Sabres began the game as the more dominant team.
With 12:45 left in the first, the Devils were tested against Buffalo’s very dangerous power play. Andreas Johnsson was penalized on a questionable interference call.This was a great kill by New Jersey.
With just under eight minutes remaining, Jesper Bratt showed off some serious speed and puck-handling skills in the offensive zone.
The only way to stop him was for the Sabres to commit some penalties, so the Devils would get their first power play chance of the day. Eric Staal was booked for slashing and Brandon Montour for tripping.
This was another terrible power play for the Devils, who didn’t even look like they had a two-man advantage.
Nikita Gusev had an unbelievable scoring opportunity with 1:43 left, but Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark made an even more unbelievable save.
2nd period: Ty ties it up
Less than a minute into the period, Johnsson was booked yet again for holding. Kyle Palmieri and Pavel Zacha had a great chance to score a short-handed goal, but Ullmark came up with a good save.
The Devils had looked good on the kill so far but, fortunately for New Jersey, the Sabres also didn’t look as sharp as usual on the power play. They exhibited trouble controlling the puck in the Devils’ zone.
The next notable moment was another Sabres power play, which was the result of a Miles Wood slashing call.
This was another great kill for the Devils. Scott Wedgewood hadn’t been too busy, but came up with some solid saves for his team.
With just under 11 minutes left, the Devils were caught on a line change, giving Taylor Hall the chance to make a long pass toStaal, who had an open lane and was able to snipe the puck past Wedgewood.
Hall would then serve two minutes for holding, but the Devils’ power play was just another bad one.
The Devils caught a break at the 16 minute mark. A Buffalo shot hit the post and Wedgewood didn’t see it at first, but was able to get on top of the rebound.
The Devils had some great scoring chances at around the 18 minute mark, but Ullmark came up with some more big saves.
With 1:49 left, Staal was sent to the box for hooking, so the Devils were awarded another power play. They were finally able to score a goal on the man-advantage.
Ty Smith took a fantastic shot that Ullmark didn’t have a chance at saving. Zacha, who notched the secondary assist on the goal, had been playing noticeably well.
3rd period: It’s a nail-biter
Head coach Lindy Ruff fiddled with the lines and moved Bratt up to the top line, a move that paid off. 1:37 in Johnsson, who had been having a tough game, ripped one top shelf for his first goal as a Devil.
The Devils’ first lead of the game wouldn’t last long as Tobias Rieder scored a goal that Wedgewood probably should’ve had.
Shortly after, the Devils had a good chance when Hughes and Johnsson made some beautiful passes to each other down the ice, but Ullmark made a highlight-reel save to stop them.
A delay of game penalty was committed on the play, but the Devils couldn’t capitalize.
Smith was booked for hooking Hall about halfway through the period. This was another very questionable penalty that would bite the Devils. Victor Olofsson sniped one past Wedgewood, who was screened by the massive Rasmus Ristolainen.
The Devils’ achilles heel this season has been their -7 goal differential in the third period. This is especially problematic for a team without explosive goal scorers.
With just over 6 minutes left, Ryan Murray found himself one-on-one against Hall without a stick, but made a nice play that prevented him from scoring.
Immediately after, Dylan Cozens was by himself in front of the Devils’ net and took a great shot, but Wedgewood came up with crucial save.
Janne Kuokkanen’s first NHL goal couldn’t have come at a better time. A scrappy battle in front of Buffalo’s net led to a deflected shot off of Ullmark’s blocker that Kuokkanen put in the net to tie the game.
With two minutes left, the Sabres were buzzing in the Devils’ zone and Damon Severson was penalized for tripping Jack Eichel. It was an eventful power play to end the period (eight seconds would carry over into overtime).
Overtime: Oh, Bratt
Overtime was very intense, but the best scoring chance came towards the end. Severson made a great pass down the ice to Bratt, who had a breakaway opportunity.
Unfortunately, Bratt’s rust was evident here, as he lost control of the puck and couldn’t score.
Shootout: At least they got a point?
Eichel scored the only goal of the shootout. Great goaltending by Ullmark, as well, led to the Devils’ loss, but the point they earned was well-deserved.
Key Moment: Welcome to the show, Janne!
The key moment of the game was definitely Kuokkanen’s goal. This was his first NHL goal as well as the goal that tied the game, sent it to overtime, and got the Devils a point. Clutch.
Player of the game: Ty Smith
Smith continues to prove that he’s a great offensive defenseman and one of the best rookies in the league. He now has six points in seven games.