In their second trip to Western New York tonight, the New Jersey Devils are looking to shake off a devastating 4-0 loss to the red hot New York Islanders and remain undefeated against the 13-15-3 Sabres, having defeated them 4-3 in their initial matchup this season. Sunday night’s game versus the Isles was the first time New Jersey lost in regulation since 12/1 when they succumbed to a frustrating 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. After a winless campaign in Western Canada, the Sabres won their last two games against some tough opponents in the LA Kings and Detroit Red Wings. Tonight’s game is pivotal for both teams in terms of momentum direction. The Sabres are looking to win three in a row for the second time since mid-November of this season, while New Jersey is hoping to rebound from their second 4-goal loss of the season.
Scoring has come in bunches for the Sabres this season, however they enter tonight’s game in the midst of one of those stretches. While the goals have been plentiful for Buffalo as of late, it hasn’t reflected on the team’s record. Despite scoring 24 goals in their last eight games (3.0 goals/game) they’ve managed to go just 4-3-1, including the aforementioned three-game slide they endured in Western Canada. Fueling this offensive outburst over the last eight games is center Ryan O’Reilly, who’s in the midst of an eight-game point streak (4G, 7A) and leads the Sabres with 28 points. With just one goal in his last eight games, rookie sensation Jack Eichel has been quiet as of late. It should be noted that he did score against the Devils during their initial matchup this season.
On defense, Rasmus Ristolainen has been on a tear with 11 points in his last ten games (including a hat trick against Calgary on 12/10). He currently ranks second on the team with 23 points, and averages more ice time than any other player on the Sabres. Buffalo has relied on the split duties of Linus Ullmark and Chad Johnson between the pipes, which hasn’t quite worked out in the team’s favor. Both goalies have GAA’s above 2.40 and both carry a .911 SV%. While the Sabres currently have the 5th-ranked power play in the league, their penalty kill is currently ranked 27th, while the Devils are top-10 in both special team categories. Buffalo’s polarized performances in special team situations has been a huge Achilles’ heel for them this year, especially when they’ve taken on some of the league’s top power play units.
Who to watch
Patrik Elias…He hasn’t scored in seven games, which was his first and only goal of the season. Elias has a relatively successful track record against the Sabres with 12 goals and 42 points after facing them 58 times over the course of his career. Elias is due and a team like the Sabres is the perfect opponent for him to snap his goal drought.
Sam Reinhart…Skating in the shadow of fellow second-overall pick Jack Eichel, Reinhart’s play has been bountiful over the last eight games. With four goals and six points in his last eight contests (including a goal and three points in his last four), Reinhart also got on the score sheet in Buffalo’s initial matchup against the Devils (one assist), and could easily fly under the radar if New Jersey’s defense becomes too preoccupied with the likes of Eichel, O’Reilly, and Kane.
Ryan O’Reilly/Adam Henrique…While O’Reilly is currently riding an eight-game point streak, this should be Henrique’s first game back after being sidelined in New Jersey’s previous two. Both players center the top lines of their respective teams, and have been a huge source of scoring over the past few weeks as Henrique has five goals and nine points in his last nine games (prior to his injury). Both players had three points each in their previous matchup this season, and will undoubtedly be a key factor for their teams in tonight’s outcome. Can one outscore the other?
What to watch
Bested by the worst…Despite defeating the Sabres in their first bout this season, the Devils have not fared well against the league’s bottom-ten teams (as of 12/15). New Jersey’s gone 3-5-2 against nine different opponents. New Jersey defaults to a flawed exploitable style of play against these below .500 teams, perhaps an indication that they might take this brand of competition too lightly. It remains to be seen if that trend will continue tonight.
Where to watch
MSG +2 (Local)
BELL TV (Buffalo)
When to watch