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by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – Bad starts have been problematic for the Buffalo Sabres and a slow first period once again cost them.

The Sabres fell into a 3-0 hole in the first period and couldn’t climb out as the New Jersey Devils rolled to a 4-1 victory Tuesday night at Prudential Center.

Buffalo surrendered four goals in the first period during their last game, Saturday night against the New York Rangers.

In Buffalo’s past 10 games, they’ve been outscored 45-17. They’re 1-8-1 during that span and have also been outscored 16-4 in first periods. This all coming off a stretch in which they’d won 10 of 13 games.

It’s a trend the team would like to buck sooner than later.

“It boils down to mental preparation,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We’ve got to be mentally ready to start. We’ve got to be mentally ready to know our assignments. We’ve just got to be prepared. I mean, this is the National Hockey League.”

MR. 1,000
With a goal and two assists, Devils alternate captain Patrick Elias hit the 1,000-point plateau. His first assist was also the 600th of his career and the goal brought his NHL total up to 399.

Just 3:44 into the game, Elias tipped in a puck as he cruised in front of the net to open the scoring. Then at the 9:49 mark, Jordan Tootoo beat Jhonas Enroth with a high wrist shot from 53 feet out.

Travis Zajac added a shorthanded tally with 5:21 remaining, taking a clearing attempt by Elias up from the neutral zone and down on a breakaway. He beat Enroth five-hole to make it 3-0. Enroth made quite a few saves on point-blank chances in the period, but couldn’t come up with those stops.

“Obviously we weren’t good enough in the first period. I gave up a soft goal there that I wish I could have back,” Enroth said. “We’ve got to find a way to play a 60-minute game.”

To close out the period, the Devils held the Sabres zone for the entire two minutes and neither team was able to make a change.

“We didn’t kill that penalty. They just missed their opportunities. There’s a difference,” Nolan said.

The Devils outshot the Sabres 13-4 in that period. Enroth ended up with 24 saves on the evening while Cory Schneider made 20 saves in the victory.

Buffalo was able to get one back 6:40 into the second when Mikhail Grigorenko scored on the power play. Chris Stewart spun free in the left wing corner to find Grigorenko in the slot.

He then one-timed a low shot into the right corner of the net for his first goal of the season and fourth of his career.

“I just stood in front of the net. I knew I was alone there and had a little bit of time,” Grigorenko said. “I called for the puck and Stewie made a great pass. I just closed my eyes and shot the puck and it went in.”

Phil Varone, who had several opportunities in the game including 2-on-1 with Nicolas Deslauriers in the second period and another chance where he hit the post on an open net, played in his first NHL game this season. He was recalled on Sunday.

While not happy with the team’s performance in the first 20 minutes, Varone thought they played a sounder game in the second and third.

“I think it was just hard work, putting pucks to the net. I probably could’ve had four goals myself,” he said. “So I’m a little disappointed in that. But if the chances are there, you’ve got to be less worried than if they’re not. Hopefully I can convert on a couple and get the boys into it.”

Mike Cammalleri added an empty-net goal with 3:04 left to make it 4-1.

Buffalo would like to clean up the mental mistakes that have cost them during this stretch. They’ll have their next opportunity Thursday night when they continue their four-game road trip with a date in Carolina against the Hurricanes.

“Lately, it’s not so much the opposition,” Nolan said. “Give them credit, but I think the majority of the blame is on ourselves.”

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