Devils fall to Sabres in shootout despite resilient effort


On Saturday afternoon up in Buffalo, the Devils battled back to grab a point against the Sabres. Ultimately, their effort wasn’t good enough to get the second point in a 4-3 shootout loss.

Despite dropping a third straight game, there were some positives to come out of the game. Twice, they came back from a one goal deficit in an entertaining game against the Sabres, who they’ll again face this afternoon in a rematch. Some new players contributed during a seesaw third period that saw each team score twice.

Skating without team leader Travis Zajac, the Devils were able to finally get goals from newcomers Andreas Johnsson and Janne Kuokanen. They also continued to see the promise of rookie Ty Smith. The defenseman scored on the power play to add to his impressive start. So far, the 20-year old former ’18 first round pick leads all rookie defensemen with seven points (2-5-7) in his first eight NHL games. In fact, he’s tied for first in rookie scoring with Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov (2-5-7).

Following a scoreless first period, the teams traded goals in the second. Facing former Devil Taylor Hall for the first time, the Devils got to see what the onetime Hart winner can do. Although he hasn’t started great in the goal department, Hall has been chipping in offensively. Recently taken off the top line by Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger, he’s responded well to being moved onto the second line. Hall would be a factor throughout the game.

On a rush started by Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour, Hall came in and fed an open Eric Staal for a quick snapshot that beat Devils goalie Scott Wedgewood for the game’s first goal at 9:03. It was a well executed play in transition. Not enough players were back for the Devils. That allowed Staal enough time and space to rifle home his third.

Late in the period, an iffy hooking call on Staal allowed the Devils to draw even. Having failed to score on a full two minute five-on-three in the first, the Devils desperately needed their struggling power play to come through. On a good play between P.K. Subban and Pavel Zacha, Subban worked over a nice pass for a Smith one-timer through traffic that beat Sabres starter Linus Ullmark with 1:25 left in the stanza. Miles Wood provided the screen in front to help tie the game headed to the third.

In a game where he changed his lines, coach Lindy Ruff tried the slumping Johnsson with Jack Hughes. It worked like a charm. After taking a Damon Severson feed up ice, Hughes gained the Sabres zone and made a good pass across to Johnsson at the opposite circle. Using Montour as a screen, he ripped a wrist shot high glove past a surprised Ullmark at 1:37 to give the Devils the lead. It was his first as a Devil.

However, it didn’t take long for the Sabres to reply back. Less than a minute later, a good forecheck from Colin Miller and Cody Eakin led to Eakin dropping the puck for a Tobias Rieder shot that beat Wedgewood to even the score at two apiece.

Although they played a good period and held a 15-8 edge in shots, they were kept off the scoreboard until later. That was due to Ullmark, who robbed Hughes of a sure goal by getting across to get a pad on his pointblank shot. He did shoot the puck back into him, but it still was a great save. Ullmark has faced a lot of rubber so far and has fared well.

A phantom hooking call on Smith halfway through the third period resulted in a Buffalo power play goal. With the dangerous Sabres top unit working the puck around, Hall and Rasmus Dahlin finally got it over to dangerous shooter Victor Olofsson in the right circle. He let go of an absolute rocket with Rasmus Ristolainen in front to beat a screened out Wedgewood top shelf. That put the Sabres back in front with 9:04 to go.

Needing another goal for an offensively challenged team still without Nico Hischier and now Zajac due to Covid Protocol, the Devils looked to some different faces to get it tied. On sorta a strange play started by Nathan Bastian, Mike McLeod was behind the net in a tough spot. He made an innocent looking drop pass to Kuokanen, who shot the puck from a sharp angle that banked in off a leaning Ullmark to magically tie the game with 5:19 remaining in regulation. The Sabres goalie didn’t cover his near goalpost to give Kuokanen just enough real estate to score his first NHL goal.

Before they could even reach overtime, they survived a Severson minor with 1:52 left when he took down Jack Eichel. Fortunately, they were able to kill off the penalty and escape.

There weren’t many shots in the overtime. Once it became three-on-three, it was tactical. The back and forth contest needed a shootout to decide a winner.

In it, Eichel beat Wedgewood with a good wrist shot off the post and in. The Devils goalie stayed too far back and should’ve challenged. Having had a good game, Jesper Bratt was selected by Ruff for the first shot. He made a good move, but Ullmark beat him to keep Buffalo ahead after Round One.

Following a Wedgwood stop on Dahlin, Nikita Gusev was denied in tight by Ullmark to keep it 1-0 Sabres. After Wedgewood did his part to stop Olofsson, the Devils’ last chance was the eerily quiet Kyle Palmieri. He made a good move looking to go backhand, but just missed with Ullmark sliding over to end the game.

The Devils will look to avenge the loss at 1 PM on Sunday. They’re 3-3-2 with eight points in eight games.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Janne Kuokanen, Devils (1st career NHL goal to tie game at 14:41 of 3rd)

2nd 🌟 Ty Smith, Devils (power play goal, +1 in 17:50)

1st 🌟 Taylor Hall, Sabres (2 assists in 22:00)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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