Game 48 Recap: Miller Lives the High Life as Sabres Slice the Devils in a shootout
(headline submitted by @radametz)
When Devils coach Peter DeBoer called the Devils an “elite” team over the weekend, he probably didn’t envision losing to the Buffalo Sabres as a reality. After back-to-back losses to a pair of Eastern Conference teams that are generally viewed as “elite” teams (Boston and Philadelphia), the Devils turned in a very sloppy performance tonight, and now head into the All-Star break on a three-game winless streak (0-2-1). They’ve dropped all three games at home and fall to 1-2-1 on the season-high six-game homestand. They also drop to eighth in the conference, which means they’re just barely holding on to a playoff spot at the break as well. So what went wrong tonight?
Let’s be honest: the Buffalo Sabres are a very weak hockey team this season. Aside from Jason Pominville, Tomas Vanek and a few other signs of strong play, the team has fallen dramatically short of expectations this season. Coming into tonight, they had lost five straight games, allowing four goals or more in each of the games. They had dropped to a tie for last in the Eastern Conference with the Carolina Hurricanes entering the night as well. Despite this, however, the Devils got off to a dreadful start in the first period. They were incredibly sloppy with the puck and left the Sabres to attack seemingly at will. Still, Buffalo managed just six shots in the first period, as did the Devils. A pinching Jordan Leopold was able to beat Martin Brodeur on a rebound to give Buffalo a lead after one period.
The Devils slowly warmed to the task in the second period, thanks to a pair of minor penalties by Buffalo forward Derek Roy. The Devils failed on their first power play, but just past the midway point of regulation and the second period, the Devils finally beat Ryan Miller. Kurtis Foster’s one-timer from the point rebounded right to Zach Parise in the slot, who fed Patrik Elias at the right circle, and Elias blasted the puck by Miller. For Elias, it was his 18th goal of the season, pulling him one behind Kovalchuk for the team lead in goals. For Parise, it was his first point since a first period assist on January 17th against Winnipeg. The Devils pretty much took over the game at that point, despite being sloppy at times, including some bad giveaways by seemingly every skater at some point. Still, Miller looked nothing like a struggling goaltender tonight. He stopped 17 of 18 shots after two periods, while Brodeur had stopped 8 of 9 Sabres shots after two periods.
The third period featured more of the same for the Devils. They dominated puck possession, scoring chances and outshot Buffalo, 6-4 in the final period, but occasional sloppy play, granted it was by both teams, prevented the Devils from generating consistent offense. For the third straight game, they couldn’t manage a second goal in regulation after a 5-goal outburst during the first game of the homestand. Regardless of how they played, they picked up a point and headed to overtime. The Devils continued to outplay Buffalo in the overtime. Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique both had tremendous chances to bury Buffalo, but they couldn’t finish their chances and beat Miller.
After overtime, the Devils had outshot Buffalo, 28-15, nearly a 2-to-1 advantage, but headed to a shootout. The shootout has been a specialty of the Devils this season. They entered the night having won 8 of 9 shootouts this season, with the only loss coming to San Jose early in the season. Kovalchuk and Parise have also been among the league’s most productive shootout skaters this seaosn. Kovalchuk, true to form, put the Devils up early. After Brodeur made a sprawling save to rob Tomas Vanek of a tying goal, Zach Parise shot on Miller, but Miller gloved his backhand attempt. Buffalo’s Brad Boyes missed his next chance. With a chance to clinch the game, Patrik Elias took his turn, but was denied by Miller. Jason Pominville then tied the game. Miller stopped Adam Henrique in the fourth round, and Nathan Gerbe beat Brodeur to give Buffalo the win.
There’s no doubt that this is a very difficult loss for the Devils. Martin Brodeur believes that DeBoer’s assessment of the Devils of being “elite” is false, at least for right now. The Devils, considered by most people to be a playoff team this season, need to win games like this one. Buffalo was free-falling and the Devils couldn’t bury them at home. They’ve already lost three games on this six-game homestand. After the All-Star break, they’ll host the conference-leading New York Rangers and then face Montreal. If they’re unable to put these losses behind them, they could find themselves on the outside of a playoff spot and looking up. Until then, though, Adam Larsson and Henrique will head to Ottawa for All-Star festivities, while the rest of the team takes a breather.
What did you think about tonight’s game? How do you feel about the state of the Devils right now heading into the break? Do you think a trade is necessary or can the Devils win with their current roster? Leave us a comment below and express your opinion!