As we head in to the final stretch of the regular season, the Devils are set to begin Fan Appreciation Week against the Buffalo Sabres tonight. The Devils are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. Cory Schneider made his return from injury, stopping 33/35 shots he faced in his first start since March 4th.
Despite their record, the Sabres have made substantial improvements under first-year head coach, Dan Bylsma. Heading into the final week of play last season, the Sabres 36.9% score-adjusted Fenwick was the worst in the league and one of the worst in the advanced stats era. This year, they sit at 46.6%. Still not a great number, but a significant improvement from where they were just a year ago. It shows in their last record over their last ten as well. They’re 6-2-2 including a 4-3 win against the Rangers on April 2nd.
Jack Eichel has been everything you could ask for from a player in his 18-19 age season, while Sam Reinhart has come along nicely and has been one of the league’s most improved players in 2015-16. The Sabres have a young core and will continue to build upon that as we head into the offseason.
Patrik Elias skated on the third-line in practice yesterday with Jacob Josefson and Mike Sislo and is set to make his return after missing most of the season with a knee injury. Elias says he intends to prepare this summer as if he will play next season, but if this is his final go with the Devils, at least he will get the chance to do it in front of the home-town crowd.
Players to Watch
Jack Eichel…Even though he’s unlikely to win the Calder Award, he’s had a fantastic rookie season in Buffalo. He’s averaging .67 points a game, which is fourth-best among rookies in the NHL in 2015-16. He’s been particularly good on the power play, where he’s tallied 8 goals and 19 points on the season. Considering he’s only 19-years old, the Sabres are in good shape going forward with him as their building block.
Kyle Palmieri…He’s been chasing that elusive thirtieth goal for quite some time now. Since scoring two against Pittsburgh on March 24th, he’s been held without a goal in his last five games. He has three games to accomplish that feat. With Robin Lehner out for the rest of the season, tonight presents a good opportunity for Palmieri to put the exclamation point on what has been fantastic season for him.
What to Watch
Defensive Zone Face-offs…The Devils and Sabres have the 1st and 3rd highest percentage of face-offs taken in the defensive zone. The Devils have the second-worst FO% while the Sabres have the fourth-worst. Something has to give. The team that takes advantage of its offensive zone face-offs could come out victorious tonight.
When and Where to Watch
7PM on MSG+