BUFFALO – A strong finish by the Devils wasn’t enough to overcome a slow start in their first game at the Prospects Challenge.Nicholas Baptiste scored twice in the opening 3:36, including one just 25 seconds into the game on a setup by 2015 second overall pick Jack Eichel, as the Buffalo Sabres got out to a 5-0 lead before sending the Devils to a 6-2 defeat at First Niagara Center on Saturday.
Evan Rodrigues assisted on both Baptiste tallies and added a goal of his own for a three-point night.
Alexandre Goulet’s quick strike at 29 seconds of the third period was the first of two in the final frame for the Devils. John Quenneville added a 4-on-4 marker with 5:21 to go in regulation.
Mackenzie Blackwood started in goal and went the distance, finishing with 32 saves. The Devils were outshot 16-9 in the first period, 38-23 overall. Neither squad converted on special teams, combining to go 0-for-12, including five misfires by New Jersey.
"Obviously a tough start,” Albany head coach Rick Kowalsky said. "I thought guys were maybe a little nervous and we didn’t move the puck. In the first period, we made some costly mistakes which put us back on our heels a bit."
He was encouraged by the team’s finishing push, something he wants to see more of in Sunday’s Prospects Challenge matchup against the Boston Bruins.
"I thought as the game went on, the second was a little bit better, and then the third was our best period,” he said. "It’s maybe just a little bit of guys finding their legs and chemistry, but I thought we finished well, which was certainly a positive. We’ll look to build off that for tomorrow."
The Devils got to work early in the third to chip away at the five-goal deficit. Goulet collected a loose puck off of a Sabres turnover in the neutral zone, beat a defender at the blue line, then snapped the puck past netminder Keegan Asmundson. Andrey Makarov started in goal for Buffalo and played 30:52.
On his goal, Quenneville won a neutral zone draw to gain possession, before collecting a Reece Scarlett pass in the high slot to beat Asmundson.
“I kind of found myself in a lane and found a soft spot in the slot area,” Quenneville said. "The pass got through to me and I buried it."
Quenneville, who centered a line of Blake Coleman and Connor Chatham, echoed Kowalsky on the need for a better start against the Bruins.
"I think there’s a lot of things to take from the third period,” said the Devils’ 2014 first-round pick. "I thought we played well, We have some good zone time. There’s some good things to build on from that."
Reid Boucher - Pavel Zacha - Blake Speers
Blake Coleman - John Quenneville - Connor Chatham
Alexandre Goulet - Joe Blandisi - Blake Pietila
Brandon Baddock - Ryan Kujawinski - Ben Thomson
Reece Scarlett - Vojtech Mozik
Colton White - Ryan Rehill
Jacob Sweeney - Josh Jacobs