The New Jersey Devils (22-21-10) take on the Buffalo Sabres (21-20-10) in their third and final meeting of the season. This is New Jersey’s last game before heading into their NHL-mandated five-day bye week and securing another two points would be huge for their playoff push. Both teams are coming off of resounding wins: New Jersey defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets (!), 5-1, in Columbus and Buffalo shut out the Ottawa Senators (!), 4-0. Taylor Hall (2), Jacob Josefson (first of the season), Travis Zajac (PPG), and Seth Helgeson (first NHL goal) all scored against Columbus. Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’ Reilly, Sam Reinhart, and Marcus Foligno scored against Ottawa.
The Devils are 2-0-0 against Buffalo this season (a back-to-back, home-and-home series). The Devils won the first one at the KeyBank Center in overtime on a penalty shot for Andy Greene. Yohann Auvitu and Matt Moulson scored the lone regulation goals. New Jersey won the second game 4-2: Kyle Quincey, Nick Lappin, Kyle Palmieri, and John Moore scored for New Jersey, and Moulson and Foligno scored for Buffalo. Keith Kinkaid and Anders Nilsson were the starting goaltenders for the first game, Cory Schneider and Robin Lehner were in net for the second.
Schneider will be in net tonight for the Devils; he is coming off a 31 save performance against Columbus. He has made the last three starts for the Devils and has allowed six goals (one against Columbus) on 100 shots in that span (.940 save percentage). Lehner is coming off his first shutout of the season and will most likely be the starting goaltender for Buffalo. Kyle Quincey will be out of tonight’s lineup with an upper body injury. Karl Stollery was recalled from Albany (AHL) earlier today after being sent down yesterday. John Moore (concussion) and Beau Bennett (lower body injury) also skated with the team this morning. Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe both returned to Buffalo’s defense on Saturday, which played tremendously in Lehner’s shutout. Zach Bogosian is still day-to-day with a rib injury.
Birthday boy Adam Henrique has three goals and three assists spanning his last four games. Palmieri has three goals and an assist in three games and Taylor Hall has two goals and a pair of assists in the same span. Look for all three of them to stay hot. Kyle Okposo leads the Sabres with 16 goals and has two in his last five games. Evander Kane has two goals and five assists in his last six games. Jack Eichel had a two assist night against Ottawa.
New Jersey is 3-2-1 in their last six games overall. The Devils’ home record, without mincing words, is trash: they are 0-5-2 in their last seven games at the Prudential Center (their last win came in a 3-0 shutout of the Bruins at the beginning of January). Tonight’s game is their second of nine games at The Rock this month and the Devils really have to establish a dominance at their home arena. On the other side, Buffalo has lost three of its last four games and has lost seven of its last eight against New Jersey. They are 2-5-1 in their last seven road games and 8-5-2 overall in their last 15.
Both teams are similar in standings and are looking for a wildcard spot in a very tight playoff race. If the Devils hope to pick up another two points, they will have to avoid unnecessary penalties. Buffalo’s power play is 5th in the league with a 22.3% success rate while New Jersey’s is 15.5% successful (good for 25th). However, the Devils’ power play unit has been much better as of late, especially with Greene’s return. They have scored four power play goals in their last four games. The Devils’ penalty kill (81.2% kill rate, 16th in the league) is much better than Buffalo’s, who sit next-to-last in the league with a 74.5% kill rate. It won’t be a fast-paced game but it should be an exciting one nonetheless.
The Devils will look to snap a seven-game losing streak at home when they take on the Sabres in their last game before the bye week; puck drops at 7PM.