Talking Red

Game 21: Devils Stumble Again, Lose 4th Straight

Posted in on by Dan Pennucci

Saturday’s matinee contest at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center turned into one of the more aggressive tilts in which the Devils have been involved this season, falling 4-3 in a shootout to the Sabres, a team that recently fired its coach. Playing without Lindy Ruff for the first time since the Clinton administration, Buffalo earned the victory with two deft finishes in the shootout from Tyler Ennis and Jason Pominville while the Devils failed to score on both of their attempts. Ilya Kovalchuk had Ryan Miller beat but missed high while Adam Henrique was denied by Miller, who emphatically flashed his glove at Henrique leading to Henrique jawing back at Miller with some words that MSG definitely won’t be happy that they caught on camera.

Despite the loss, it was one of the Devils’ better offensive performances in two weeks as the team lost its fifth game in its last six. Johan Hedberg, starting his fourth-straight game in place of the dinged-up Martin Brodeur did not have one of his best contests and has lost his last five starts. Moose surrendered three goals on 23 shots while the Devils notched eight more total shots than the Sabres.

Given the chippy nature of Saturday’s contest, this coming Thursday’s visit to The Rock by Buffalo could make for an interesting contest, as it appears Henrique has become an object of the Sabres’ fans vile. Don’t be surprised to see the Devils take a run at Robyn Regehr or Patrick Kaleta next week.

It was Andrei Loktionov’s third-period equalizer that got the Devils into overtime. New Jersey kept the puck in along the left wall where it found Ilya Kovalchuk, who dished a backhand pass to Stefan Matteau who followed with a backhand pass of his own for a patient finish around Miller by Loktionov. The play resembled one of the seven goals New Jersey put past Ed Belfour in Game 1 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final by Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora.

The Devils continued their recent tradition of playing from behind, coughing up a shorthanded goal to Buffalo captain Jason Pominville that Ilya Kovalchuk and Marek Zidlicky (shocker) deserved assists on to open the scoring in the seond period. New Jersey began the power play in the Buffalo zone but the Sabres were able to clear the puck. Zidlicky and Kovalchuk went back to collect it, but it was Cody Hodgson that emerged from the corner with the puck, where he dished to a wide-open Pominville in the slot for an easy finish. Replays showed four New Jersey players below the faceoff circles with three below the goal line, leaving Moose helpless.

Steve Bernier knotted up the score 2:07 later on a puck that bounced off him and barely over the goal line following a Mark Fayne shot that first deflected off Ryan Carter. New Jersey and Buffalo swapped scoring chances late in the second period but neither team was able to capitalize. Travis Zajac had two glorious chances close to goal, but was denied by Ryan Miller on both occasions. The two scoring chances were essentially microcosms of Zajac’s disappointing season so far.

Adam Henrique gave the Devils a lead early in the third period with a shorthanded goal, pouncing on a loose puck with the quickness Devils fans are expecting from him and beating Miller with a slick deke to the forehand. The lead lasted just 1:49 as Jason Pominville tied up the contest before Buffalo took the lead at 9:47 on an ugly goal for the Devils’ defense and Hedberg rife with misplays and miscommunication.

Notes:
-The game had much more of a physical, nasty edge to it than most Devils-Sabres contests, mostly due to the mood established early by Patrick Kaleta, Steve Ott, David Clarkson and Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk certainly was on the receiving end of Buffalo’s aggression, notably getting cross-checked to the ice by Buffalo’s Robyn Regehr late in the third period, causing him to stumble to the bench. He was back for overtime.

-Marek Zidlicky made quite an impact on the game without doing much of anything, save for assisting on the Sabres’ first goal. He committed a penalty in overtime that the Devils killed off where he looked as if he was sitting up top of Nathan Gerbe’s head. Gerbe ran at Zidlicky as retaliation for a Henrik Tallinder hit moments earlier, but it was Zidlicky that managed to draw the penalty.

-New Jersey spent most of overtime on the penalty kill with Zidlicky’s penalty and then Bryce Salvador tripping up Tyler Ennis after the deceptively strong playmaker blew by the Devils’ captain.

-Henrique played with much more of an edge than we had seen most games, no doubt fired up by the chippy nature of the game. Henrique knocked Tyler Ennis down to the ice as the overtime whistle ended after Ennis raised his gloves to Henrique’s face.

-Andrei Loktionov has quietly been one of the best acquisitions in the NHL this season. With three goals and two assists over the last five games, he’s riding a five-game point streak. He couldn’t crack the lineup in Los Angeles and the Devils got him essentially for nothing (a 2013 fifth-round pick). Should the new line of he, Matteau and Kovalchuk continue, this could be a solid combination for the Devils.

-Patrick Kaleta and Steve Ott, renowned throughout the NHL as two of their most effective pests began asserting themselves early in the game. Ott went after David Clarkson moments into the game only to level Adam Henrique several minutes later. Meanwhile, Kaleta refused to be outdone by his teammate, goading Ilya Kovalchuk into a dumb penalty midway through the first period moments after the pair had gone to the penalty box on matching minors.

-Ryan Carter played for the first time in four games since the minor head injury he suffered President’s Day in the loss to Ottawa. Carter notched an assist in 12:10 and took up his customary place on the left side of Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier.

-New Jersey travels up the QEW from Buffalo for a contest Saturday against Toronto, likely without Martin Brodeur, as noted on Friday by the Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti.

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