NEWARK, NJ - In their first February home game, the Devils fell to the Buffalo Sabres 3-2. With the loss, the Devils have a 1-1-1 record in the season's series with Buffalo and fall to 6-4-2 overall.
Right wing Kyle Palmieri opened the scoring for New Jersey in the first minute of the third period. Palmieri's goal extended his points streak to three games, and it was his second straight game scoring a goal. Will Butcher, who had the secondary assist on Palmieri's goal, also has a three-game point streak. Jack Hughes picked up the primary assist on Palmieri's goal to start a two-game points streak.
P.K. Subban scored his first goal of the season on the power play late in the third period as the Devils tried to overcome a 3 goal deficit from the second period.
New Jersey heads to Washington D.C. to play the Capitals Sunday night. You can watch on MSG and listen on the Devils Hockey Network, including right here at NewJerseyDevils.com.
"There's gonna be games where you're not gonna feel great all the time," said Palmieri. "I thought the reponse in the third period was awesome. We pressed and we had chances to tie the game so I think as we go, a short break, we'll get after it tomorrow."
"They beat us on a lot of pucks, they forced us into some turnovers, their energy seemed to be better than ours," said Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff on the loss. "We made some mental mistakes that cost us goals."
Center Nico Hischier made his season debut after suffering an off-season lower body injury that kept him out until Saturday. Before the game, Hischier was named Captain, the 12th in the franchise's history.
"It's a great honor, it's a privilege representing the Jersey Devils organization as a captain and leading a team," said Hischier. "We've got some really good leaders in the locker room too. I'm sure they're going to help me out as well, but I will just try my best every game to help the team with having success."
"He's such a geniune, hard working kid," said Palmieri. "He's a guy that leads by example and the passion, the energy, the love for the game, and the love for going out there and competing with his teammates, that's one of the things we love about him. He's an awesome player and leads by example, and as the guy who's going to lead our team that's really all you could ask for."
Veteran center Travis Zajac played his 999th NHL game against Buffalo, in his first game back from the COVID-protocol list.
The Devils found some offensive momentum and possession time in the first five minutes of the period, a large part due to Jack Hughes. Hughes used his speed to beat Buffalo players behind the net, regained possession and sparked a controlled push by New Jersey. Defenseman Sami Vatanen also had a close opportunity that Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark stopped. However, Buffalo would get on the board first, just under five minutes in, due to Colin Miller's shot from the point.
Midway through the first period, the Devils had their first power play of the night. The team struggled to find some consistent opportunities or rhythm. However, five minutes later they would have their second man-advantage chance of the period.
Unlike the first attempt, the Devils had a strong start and a close chance by Nico Hischier right on the doorstep. Following, Jack Hughes had a shot on net that several teammates tried to follow up but were unable to. After the first twenty minutes, the Sabres had a 1-0 lead and a 12-8 shot advantage.
The Sabres came out strong in the second period with extended periods of time in the offensive zone and pushing the Devils defense and goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. However, a few minutes later, the Devils pushed Buffalo to cause some turnovers and gained possession for the first time that period.
Buffalo scored again with 11:53 on the clock in the second period. Matt Irwin's slap shot from the blue line beat Blackwood to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. The Sabres used the momentum from their goal to continue to push the pace of the game and create legitimate scoring chances challenging Blackwood and the defense.
With 2:44 left in the period, Dmitry Kulikov was sent to the box for holding and the Devils penalty kill went to work. 29 seconds in, the Sabres scored. Sam Reinhart redirected Jack Eichel's shot on net to score on Blackwood and make it 3-0 for the visitors. After forty minutes of play, the Sabres had a 23-14 shot advantage.
The Devils came out firing in the third period and just 40 seconds in got their first goal of the game. Kyle Palmieri's shot through traffic was his third goal of the season. Hughes and Will Butcher picked up assists on the goal.
New Jersey continued to have more energy throughout the third period and found more solid scoring opportunities. One example was with 5:50 left on the clock and Jack Hughes's shot was on target but stopped by Ullmark.
With 4:44 on the clock, the Devils went back on the power play for the third time. After a shot was blocked at the start of the period, it took about 30 seconds for the Devils to reset. With 50 seconds left in the mab-advantage, Pavel Zacha's shot was stopped and the Devils took a timeout to assess their plan for the final bit of their power play. Not long after play resumed, P.K. Subban fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Ullmark top shelf. The power play goal cut the Buffalo lead and made it a 3-2 game late in the third period.
Late in the period, the Devils pulled Blackwood for the extra attacker, but Blackwood returned before the team could hold a solid possession. The three goal deficit from the first two periods proved too much for New Jersey to overcome as they fell 3-2 to Buffalo at home.
"When you look at the third period that's how we should be playing all three periods, and we know it's not enough just one period, but it gives us a good feeling for tomorrow," said Hischier. "I think we got to take out the third period and try to start exactly like we came out with the third."
"I like the fact we were able to dig in, we talked about getting a goal in the first five minutes [of the third period] to get back into the game, was going to be our focus so we thought if we got one that we could put some pressure on, which we did," said Ruff. "I give our group a lot of credit for the fight they had that third period to try to get back in a hockey game."
The Devils travel to Washington D.C. to face the Capitals Sunday night before returning home to face the Sabres once again on Tuesday.