NEWARK, N.J. - In the fourth of eight meetings between the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres this season, the Devils fell 4-1 Thursday night. Nikita Gusev scored his second goal of the season in the final minute of the third period. This is the second straight game in which the forward has scored in the last minute of regulation. The Devils fall to 1-2-1 against the Sabres this season and this is the team's third straight loss.
Pavel Zacha extended his points streak to seven straight games as he picked up an assist on Gusev's goal. Zacha has five assists over the last seven games, serving as a key playmaker for the team.
"He's been able to find the open guy when he's there and he's been able to create some opportunities for himself," said Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff. "Part of getting on a streak like that is somebody has to finish. And sometimes you're fortunate, sometimes you make really good plays as they do finish."
The first period saw quite a few Devils chances especially off of the rush or after battling in the corners to keep possession in the offensive zone. The Devils outshot the Sabres 15-12 after 20 minutes.
"I think actually if you look at the first period, I think we had somewhere between seven and ten scoring opportunities," said Ruff. "I think we could have done a better job with the second opportunities but we got inside that area, created those opportunities and didn't finish. Some of those opportunities could have been better if we would have got people there."
A standout for the Devils in the first frame was left wing Andreas Johnsson. Johnsson was seen putting pressure on the Sabres clearing attempts and was using his speed to play a full 200 foot game.
Halfway through the first period, Johnsson and Palmieri came close to opening the scoring when Palmieri's backhand shot was inches short. Johnsson and Palmieri entered the zone, passing back and forth quickly. Johnsson almost lost the puck, recovered, and hit a streaking Palmieri as he reached the doorstep. Buffalo's Linus Ullmark stopped the shot, but it was a strong sequence from the line-mates.
The first special teams play of the night came less than four minutes into the period. Michael McLeod was sent to the box for tripping and the Devils penalty kill went to work against the fourth best power play in the league. Buffalo maintained possession the entire two minutes, but the Devils penalty kill came up strong.
Thirty seconds after both teams returned to even strength, Buffalo was called for a penalty and the Devils got a power play of their own. However, the Devils struggled to keep possession throughout the man-advantage and were unable to score.
With 11:33 left in the second frame, the Devils went back on the penalty kill after Sami Vatanen was sent to the box for tripping. The Sabres hit their fourth post of the night which kept the visitors from scoring a power play goal early in the man-advantage. The Devils were able to clear the puck for the first time on the PK which gave them some much needed relief and the ability to swap out players. However, with seven seconds left on the power play, Victor Olofsson's shot from the right face-off dot beat Blackwood to make it 1-0 Sabres.
After forty minutes, the Sabres held on to their 1-0 lead and outshot the Devils 12-6 in the middle frame. The Devils had six takeaways and blocked eight shots.
The Sabres score two goals within a minute and a half toincrease their lead. Five minutes into the third period Rasmus Asplund tipped in Sam Reinhart's inital shot to double the away team's lead. Then a minute and a half later, Dylan Cozens scored backhanded to make it 3-0.
The Devils had a series of strong possessions in the offensive zone during the final ten minutes of the game. P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes were each trying to throw as many shots on goal as possible. The team's defenders up top pushed to keep the puck in the zone after several tough outlet passes up to them.
New Jersey kept pushing the pace and were outshooting the Sabres during the third period. With 2:50 left in regulation, the Devils went back on the power play for the second time. The team started the man-advantage with a big shot by Jack Hughes and some movement throughout the zone. However, the team struggled to get set up again until the final 20 seconds. P.K. Subban had a strong shot but the team was unable to score on the power play.
The final minute saw several close shots and the Devils were finally able to get on the board in the final 30 seconds of the game. Nikita Gusev scored his second goal of the season top corner. Buffalo would have one more goal in them as Cody Eakin scored as time expired to secure the 4-1 win for Buffalo.
Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 34 of the 37 shots he faced. New Jersey allowed one power play goal from the Sabres two man-advantage opportunities. The home team was unable to capitalize on either of their power play opportunities.
"It just seems like it's been a season of power plays dominating penalty killing units," said Ruff on the strong power plays the Devils have faced this year so far. "We've got some guys that are learning on the job. We know we're going to continue to get better, make the reads, try to create some pressure when we can create it and we got to get better at getting those 200 foot clears."
Up next, the Devils head to Buffalo to face the Sabres Thursday night for the fifth of eight meetings between the East division opponents. Following Thursday's game, the Devils return home to host the Washington Capitals Saturday and Sunday at Prudential Center.
"A good thing about it is that we have a game in two days again, we can learn from it, we play the same team," said Zacha post game. "We have to find a way to win and it's gonna be a hard game again with Buffalo, but that's what's good about this season, you have a chance to bounce back right away."