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Sabres blast Kovy-less Devils 6-1

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk was out of the lineup, listed as a healthy scratch for the Devils, and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur was summoned from the bench roughly halfway through the game.

Yes, it was a different night in New Jersey, but the Buffalo Sabres will take it. Heck, the Sabres will take just about any bounce or break that goes their way right now -- and they got plenty Saturday at Prudential Center to the tune of a 6-1 victory, their third of the season and a nice way to quickly wipe away the memories of Friday's 4-2 loss at home against Ottawa.

The Devils are now 0-4-1 in five games at Prudential Center. Buffalo is 3-1 on the road.

"It's how you react now," said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who made 26 saves. "(Friday) night, losing a tough one at home against a divisional rival, you want to see how you react, how you come out, and I thought we did a good job of getting established. Early on the Devils were the team that was rested and they came hard, but we started to settle into a more organized game and we got the pucks where we needed them."

The Devils, who started Johan Hedberg in net for the first time this season, held a 4-0 advantage in shots on goal through the first six-plus minutes, but Drew Stafford's low slap shot from the right circle 6:57 into the game got through Hedberg and all of a sudden it was 1-0.

Nearly 10 minutes later, Mike Grier was able to find defenseman Tyler Myers at the right hash with a diagonal pass from below the left circle. Myers had time to settle the puck and put his weight into a slap shot that went through a screening Rob Niedermayer and past Hedberg to make it 2-0.

Buffalo got two more in the second period from Tyler Ennis and Patrick Kaleta to chase Hedberg. Martin Brodeur, who was supposed to have a planned night off, replaced him 8:17 into the second period after Buffalo scored four times on 15 shots.

When the 14,228 in the building saw Brodeur stand up on the bench and call for his helmet and stick, they started to cheer.

"I think we all feel horrible about (Hedberg's tough night), and horrible about the way he was treated," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "He's out there battling as hard as he can. He's put in a tough situation, hasn't played in nearly a month and you want to put your best effort forth. We didn't do that."

Brodeur was sharp early, but he gave up a goal to Thomas Vanek with 1:48 to play before the second intermission. Vanek, who also scored 11:50 into the third period, was the beneficiary of a hard forecheck by Nathan Gerbe and a nifty pass from Derek Roy. Gerbe beat Henrik Tallinder to a puck behind the goal line and dropped it back for Roy, who quickly found Vanek in the slot for a slam-dunk goal.

It was 5-0 Buffalo. The five goals were more than the Sabres had scored in any of their previous eight games.

"It's a chess match out there, and a lot of times it's dictated by who scores first, and we scored first tonight," Miller said. "But then it's who can hold on and not make that mistake or the turnover. We've got to get the puck in and work the other team, establish zone time and establish speed through the neutral zone. These are things we were better at tonight and we'll be better at moving forward."

Miller, who was starting his third game in four nights, had the Devils shaking their heads for most of the night. He made a save on David Clarkson in the second period that left the New Jersey forward muttering to himself after the whistle blew.

Zach Parise was the only Devil to beat Miller, and that was on a rebound midway through the third period. But a turnover by Devils defenseman Matt Corrente led Vanek's second goal just 25 seconds later.

The Devils head for Madison Square Garden and a Sunday night date with the New York Rangers at 2-5-1, last in the Atlantic Division.

"I'm concerned," Parise said. "Yeah, it's early, but we're letting a lot of points slip away. Tonight was the same thing, we gotta start competing harder and playing better because it's going to be a long year if we keep this up."

Hedberg talked prior to the game about playing strong so his teammates could develop trust in him, but it didn't help that the one guy who knows him from a previous team was not in the lineup.

Kovalchuk, who played with Hedberg in Atlanta, skated during the Devils' optional practice Saturday morning and was seen working on his sticks when it was over. However, prior to the game the Devils announced that Alexander Vasyunov, their second-round pick (No. 58) in 2006, was called up from AHL Albany and then Kovalchuk did not skate in warm-ups.

Vasyunov, who wore No. 18, wound up making his NHL debut while the team announced that Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch. Devils coach John MacLean said after the game that it was his decision to scratch Kovalchuk. He said he'll decide Sunday morning if Kovalchuk is going to play against the Rangers.

"It was my decision, he knows why and I've discussed it with him," MacLean said. "That's it."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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