Erik Haula scored twice, including the game winner, for the Devils as they beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 in a barnburner of a game in New Jersey. The score went back and forth for the entire game, with the Devils finally taking the lead for good with less than six minutes to play.
Sabres starting goalie Eric Comrie was injured midway through the second period and did not return to the game. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen replaced him in nets, stopping 19 of the 22 shots he faced.
The Sabres, who led twice in this game, got goals from JJ Peterka, Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin and Dylan Cozens.
The Sabres made one lineup change from Tuesday’s win against Ottawa; Tyson Jost rotated in for Zach Benson.
Jordan Greenway– Tage Thompson – Dylan Cozens
Jeff Skinner – Casey Mittelstadt – Alex Tuch
Peyton Krebs – Tyson Jost – JJ Peterka
Victor Olofsson – Zemgus Girgensons – Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin – Mattias Samuelsson
Owen Power – Henri Jokiharju
Connor Clifton – Erik Johnson
Eric Comrie / Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
Good, fast first period
The Sabres opened the scoring on a snipe by JJ Peterka at 6:11. The play started in the Sabres own zone. As Peterka took a pass from Henri Jokiharju, Devils defender Luke Hughes fell at center ice. That put Peterka on a 2-on-1 with Peyton Krebs. Peterka held and then beat Vitek Vanecek with a wrister.
Not too long after, the Devils tied it up at 7:41 on a goal from Holtz. The Devils hemmed the Sabres in their own end and while Eric Comrie stopped the initial shot from Jack Hughes, Holtz buried the rebound.
The Devils’ powerplay has been quite impressive this season, scoring on more than 40% of their chances. Their first PP opportunity tonight showed us why. Lots of movement and lots of shots. Eric Comrie came up with some stellar saves to keep the game tied.
Then, the Tage Thompson we got used to seeing last season showed up at 15:42. The big center took a pass from Alex Tuch in the slot and deked Vanecek to the ice. When it looked like he had deked too wide, Thompson pulled the puck back behind the fallen goalie and into the net. Greenway and Tuch with the assists.
Connor Clifton received a match penalty at 16:00 for a high hit on Nico Hischier. The hit started a scrum that ended up with Clifton gone from the game as well as receiving a five-minute major. The Devils also got a instigator penalty. That put the teams 4-on-4 for two minutes.
Just 11 seconds later, the Devils tied it up at 16:11 when Mattias Samuelsson lost the puck at the Sabres blueline. That’s sent Jesper Bratt in alone on Comrie and he beat him five hole with the deke. It really wasn’t Samuelsson’s fault, it was a bad pass in the skates from Dahlin.
Shots in the first were 15-12 for New Jersey.
Comrie injured midway in the second
The second period began with the Sabres killing off the remainder of Clifton’s match penalty. Comrie was forced to make another good stop on a one-timer.
Mid-period, things turned into fire wagon hockey. The Sabres had two breakaways, one for Alex Tuch and the other for Zemgus Girgensons, but neither could beat Vanecek. Nine minutes into the period, the Sabres were up 8-1 in shots.
Eric Comrie got hurt not long afterwards. He made a nice pad stop on a pass out from behind the net and wasn’t able to get up afterwards. Maybe his right hip?
That brought Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (UPL) into the game with almost 10:00 to play in the period. Perhaps sensing a cold goalie, the Devils immediately started applying lots of pressure in the Sabres zone.
The Devils took a too-many-men penalty, putting the Sabres on the powerplay. But it was the Devils who capitalized. Another bad pass, this time from Cozens caused a turnover at the Devils’ blueline. Erik Haula carried the puck in all alone and deked UPL to his left for the shorthanded goal at 13:47.
Rasmus Dahlin tied things up at 17:31 with a rocket from the blueline that beat Vanecek over the right shoulder. The play resulted from some hustle by Tuch to beat out a potential icing call. After a couple of blocked shots, Dahlin’s shot tied the game at 3 apiece.
Shots in the second were 11-8 Buffalo.
Devils dominate in the third
UPL took a delay of game penalty when he cleared the puck over the glass, and the Devils capitalized with a goal credited to Tyler Toffoli on a shot by Luke Hughes through a screen at 2:09.
Ten minutes into the period, shots were 11-1 for the Devils.
When they did get a shot, Dylan Cozens made it count. At 12:35, Cozens scored a goal similar to the Skinner scored against Montreal, roofing the shot over Vanecek’s left shoulder on the short side. Kyle Okposo picked up the assist.
But the Devils took the lead right back when Haula deflected a shot past UPL at 14:17. Samuelsson has to do a better job at clearing the guy from the front of the net on that play.
The Sabres pulled UPL for the extra attacker with 1:35 to go, but they could only muster a couple of long shots on Vanecek.
Shots in the third were 18-4 for the Devils and 40-27 for the game.
This felt like a game where the Sabres should have at least gotten a point. Devils goalie Vitek Vanecek was beatable tonight and had the Sabres managed more than four shots in the third period, I think they would have at least taken the game to overtime. But what cost the Sabres tonight were two bad giveaways that led to breakaway goals and some poor defensive coverage in front of their goaltenders. They simply weren’t good enough tonight.
One thing you notice about the Devils is how much they drive the net. Whether they are carrying the puck on the rush or they are controlling play in the zone, they always had someone in front of the net. That’s something the Sabres don’t do enough.
In fact, that’s something I commented on Twitter during the game. Too often on powerplays, the Sabres move the puck around the outside and look for the big bomb from Thompson. They rarely, if ever, have someone planted in front of the opposing goalie. If they can find someone willing to stand there – maybe someone like Tuch, Greenway or Peterka – I think they’ll have more success.
I’m guessing Connor Clifton gets a one-game suspension for his hit. That likely means we’ll see Jacob Bryson make is season debut on Sunday against Colorado.
Really tough break for Eric Comrie. He was playing well and looked like he was going to be the one to carry the load while Levi recovers from his injury. I hope he recovers quickly. Until then, in UPL we trust I guess.
Speaking of UPL, I didn’t think he was bad in net. He faced a lot of shots in third period. That said, if he wants to become a bonafide #1 in this league, he’s got to find a way to come up with a big save to keep the game tied. Star goalies do that… that’s why they’re stars.
Catch up on all the Sabres results and upcoming schedule here.