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PRE-GAME STORY: Devils vs Sabres 2.23.21

The Devils look to halt their current two-game slump against the team that started it with the Sabres back in town for a rematch of Saturday's game

by Marc Ciampa and Chris Wescott / NewJerseyDevils.com

The Devils have lost two straight games and their current slump started against the very team they'll host on Tuesday night. The Sabres came into Jersey and spoiled Nico Hischier's season debut and his first game wearing the captain's "C" by a score of 3-2.

Video: DEVILS MINUTE | Full House

This game will take place at 7 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+ and MSG Go, as well as heard on the Devils Hockey Network.

Get all the info you need ahead of the game below.

INSIDE THE DEVILS

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PRE-GAME STORY

NEWARK, NJ - One down, 10 to go.

The Devils just completed a stretch of four games in six days and while it was a grueling stretch of games rarely seen in a normal NHL season, the club has 10 more of these to come between now and May. 

Devils head coach Lindy Ruff spoke this morning about managing that workload and the different ways he can do that. 

"I don't think we should hesitate to put fresh legs in. It was hard because we were coming off a two-week break and a lot of guys who only had one or two practices before we did," Ruff noted. 

"Everyone could see we had some fatigue in our game."

Ruff said that the team shouldn't be afraid to put extra personnel in, such as an extra forward or two and a seventh or eighth defenseman. 

Tonight, the big change for the club is Janne Kuokkanen drawing into the lineup in place of Mikhail Maltsev who moved over to the taxi squad. Kuokkanen skated with Travis Zajac and Nikita Gusev. Lines are projected to be: 

Zacha - Hischier - Bratt
Johnsson - Hughes - Palmieri
Kuokkanen - Zajac - Gusev
Wood - McLeod - Bastian

Murray - Subban
Smith - Severson
Kulikov - Vatanen

Mackenzie Blackwood will start in goal tonight. On Sunday, Blackwood didn't even dress as the backup which is something Ruff added he'll also do on a regular basis, taking advantage of three capable goaltenders on the team roster. 

"An extra day off," he said. "I don't think it's much of a rest when you have to go out for warm-up and prepare. We've got three goaltenders and we're going to use them. That's an easy opportunity for us."

Video: PRE-GAME RAW | Nico Hischier 2.23.21

HISCHIER GETTING COMFORTABLE

Nico Hischier played his first two games of the season on the weekend and Ruff noted that he may need a few more to get into a rhythm. 

"He's battling a lot of things. There's not much more that can happen to you between the lengthy injury and COVID setback," said Ruff. "We all know how good a player he is, what a great competitor he is. It may take a game or two before we see the true Nico."

Hischier agreed with his coach. 

"Conditioning wise, it wasn't my best game but I don't want to have any excuse," said Hischier. "I'm happy to be out there. My legs feel good. Just the breathing and timing a little bit that'll come in a couple of games."

ZACHA ON THE WING

Pavel Zacha has been playing with Hischier and Jesper Bratt as opposed to his usual role down the middle. Ruff said he's been looking at ways to put the lineup together with so many centers. 

"When you look at a lot of our players, we have a lot of centers and it's easier to go to the wings. We're going to need players to go over there," Ruff noted. 

He added that he's been very happy with Zacha's play of late, particularly offensively where he has five points in his last five games. 

"Everybody believes that he has a very good skill set. It's just putting yourself in position to use it," stated Ruff, adding that the team is putting him on the power play to take advantage of that skill set. 

"He's got a heck of a shot. If you look at a lot of power plays, shooting from the flank, it starts there. I like his puck movement on the power play and we really need two strong units."

PREVIEW

DEVILS (6-5-2) vs SABRES (5-8-2)

TV: MSG+ at 7 PM ET

Head-to-Head:

This will be the fourth of eight meetings this season between the Devils and the Sabres. Buffalo has gotten the better of two of the first three.

The Sabres won 4-3 in a shootout on Jan. 30, the Devils won 5-3 on Jan. 31, and the Sabres won 3-2 on Saturday.

Devils Team Scope:

The Devils fell 4-3 to Washington on Sunday to close out an 0-2-0 back-to-back series. The losses followed a stretch of three-straight wins.

With a condensed schedule, this is the first of four games through Sunday. They'll play Buffalo again on Thursday night.

Jack Hughes leads the Devils in scoring with four goals and seven assists for 11 points. Kyle Palmieri is second with three goals and six assists for nine points.

The Devils are finally back to full health with Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac returning on Saturday and Ryan Murray (illness) back in the lineup after Sunday's game against the Capitals.

Sabres Team Scope:

The Sabres lost 3-2 to the Islanders on Monday night. They've lost five of their last six with their lone win coming against the Devils on Saturday.

Sam Reinhart, who scored against the Islanders, had two goals against the Devils on Saturday.

Curtis Lazar was the only other goal scorer for the Sabres on Monday night.

By the Numbers:

The Devils have allowed the 28th most goals in the league, but have played less games than much of the NHL. The Devils power play is 22nd in the league, while their penalty kill is 31st.

Injury Update:

Devils: None to report.

Sabres: Girgensons (Hamstring) is on IR, Ristolainen (COVID-19 Protocol) is day-to-day, McCabe (Right ACL, MCL, meniscus) is on IR, Borgen (upper body) is day-to-day

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