DAB PREGAME: Taylor Hall Returns as Devils Look to End Slump

The Devils and Sabres have split the season series thus far this year. –Getty Images

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Match Overview

Tonight’s game will feature the New Jersey Devils, who currently own a 24-16-8 record, and the Buffalo Sabres, who own a 14-26-9 record, which puts them in last place in the Atlantic Division.

The All-Star break came at a time where the Devils suffered many key injuries and also were in the midst of their worst stretch of the season (2-7-3). Nothing was going right, bounces were in favor of the opponent, and they found themselves on the wrong side of numerous calls made by the officials.

Despite their recent struggles, the Devils haven’t been playing all that poorly. They continue to get pucks to the net, limit shots against, and are stout on special teams. If they continue to play like they have been, better results will start to come.

The Buffalo Sabres, unlike the Devils, have been playing some of their better hockey of the season. They completed their recent western Canadian trip with three wins in a row. They collectively outscored their opponents 12-1, marking their most successful string of games.

However, they still rank near the bottom in every statistical category. Offensively, they’re last in the league in goals per game (2.3) and 23rd in the league on the power play (16%). Defensively, they rank 28th in goals against per game (3.3) and 23rd on the penalty kill (78.6%). Although the Sabres have endured recent success, they are still classified as one of the NHL’s worst teams and are an opponent the Devils must take advantage of.

Projected Devils Lines

Hall-Hischier-Bratt
Wood-Zacha-Palmieri
Coleman-Zajac-Noesen
Hayes-Boyle-Stafford

Greene-Vatanen
Moore-Severson
Butcher-Lovejoy

Schneider

Projected Sabres Lines

Girgensons-Eichel-Okposo
Wilson-O’Reilly-Reinhart
Kane-Larsson-Pominville
Pouliot-Rodrigues-Baptiste

Scandella-Ristolainen
McCabe-Antipin
Falk-Nelson

Lehner

 

Taylor Hall is expected to return tonight after missing the previous three games. –Getty Images

What/Who to Watch

  • Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender Robin Lehner was recently named the third star of the week by NHL.com. He contributed a 33-save shutout in Edmonton and a 30-save shutout in Vancouver leading up to the All-Star break. These performances boosted his save percentage to a .912. If Lehner plays anywhere near the level he has his past two starts, the Devils may be in some trouble.

 

  • A huge part of any hockey game is a team’s performance in the face-off dot. One of the few things the Sabres do excel in is face-offs. They rank 11th in the league with a 51.1% success rate, led by Ryan O’Reilly, who is the number one ranked face-off centerman in the league. In comparison, the Devils rank 29th (47.2%), so this will surely be an area to watch tonight.

 

  • For the most part, the Devils’ recent struggles have been due to goaltending. Since Dec. 29th, they have the worst five-on-five save percentage in the league (.889%). With Schneider still out, Keith Kinkaid will make his first start since injuring himself in a 3-1 loss to the Flyers on January 20th. He’ll be facing a team that not only struggles on the power play but also at 5-on-5. The Sabres come into tonight’s contest with the fewest even-strength goals in the league.

 

  • Forward Taylor Hall will make his return to the Devils lineup tonight. After missing the previous three games with a hand-injury his return is certainly welcomed. Without him, they only mustered up two-goals and were shutout twice. The Devils’ leading scorer is such an instrumental part of the team, and I’m sure fans are ecstatic that he is back.

Tonight’s game can be seen on MSG+2 at 7:00 PM.

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