NEWARK, N.J. - For the third time this season, a meeting between the Buffalo Sabres and the New Jersey Devils on Monday night represented an opportunity for the Sabres to shrink a tight gap between the two teams in the standings. And, for the third time, it was the Devils who came out on top.
You can point to a number of factors when trying to explain Buffalo's 2-1 loss at Prudential Center. You can question whether or not Evander Kane deserved a double-minor when he stuck up for Zemgus Girgensons in the second period, a penalty that led to New Jersey's first goal, or you can question whether or not a third-period coach's challenge for goalie interference should've gone in Buffalo's favor. You can wonder whether the Sabres deserved more than one power play on a night the Devils had four.
Robin Lehner acknowledged all of these factors, but for him, the game boiled down to something much simpler.
"They played good. I don't think we played that well," the Sabres goaltender said.
In a game that was chippy right from the moment Nicolas Deslauriers fought Joseph Blandisi early in the first period, things escalated when Karl Stollery knocked the helmet off of Girgensons with a hard check into the boards (Girgensons would later do the same thing to Stollery). The hit prompted Kane to retaliate against the Devils defenseman, and Kane ended up receiving four minutes for roughing while New Jersey's Stephen Santini only served two.
Adam Henrique banked a puck off of Sabres defenseman Cody Franson and into the net on the ensuing power play to give the Devils a 1-0 a lead 8:46 into the period.
Girgensons said he didn't believe that Kane deserved the extra two minutes for his actions, and Sabres coach Dan Bylsma seemed to agree.
"Evander's going in there for his teammate," Bylsma said. "That's something we like to see.
"I don't necessarily agree with all the calls tonight," he said later.
Henrique's goal came on New Jersey's second power play of the night. The Devils were on their fourth power play when Pavel Zacha scored the game-winning goal on a rebound in the third period, breaking the 1-1 tie that the Sabres had earned a few minutes prior thanks to a spin-o-rama goal from Tyler Ennis.
Bylsma challenged for goalie interference when it appeared a New Jersey stick made contact with Lehner's glove as he attempted to catch the initial shot, freeing the puck and creating the rebound opportunity for Zacha. Officials ruled otherwise.
"It's a puck above the crossbar, Robin goes up to catch it and their guy puts his stick into it and I think prevents Robin from catching the puck," Bylsma said. "Yes, the puck gets spit back out and there's a second shot so there's no interference on the second shot but without the stick there, I think Robin catches the puck."
Lehner said he agreed with the decision to challenge the play, but he wasn't willing to blame the goal on the contact made with his glove.
"He touched my glove a little bit but I don't think significantly," he said. "It's hard to argue if he doesn't have his stick there, [whether] I get it clean or not. I don't know. Maybe, maybe not."
Lehner turned in yet another strong outing, following up his 37-save shutout of the Ottawa Senators on Saturday with 37 saves against the Devils. The Sabres simply weren't able to establish their game in the offensive zone, particularly in the second and third periods.
Video: BUF@NJD: Lehner denies Zacha with strong blocker save
On the night, Buffalo was outshot 39-23.
"They really did a good job in the second period of hemming us in and we played a lot of D-zone against them in that stretch of time," Bylsma said. "I think they had nine scoring chances in the second period."
"I think we gave them too much," Girgensons said. "We put too much on Lenny's shoulders today. He could've been the difference for us … He made some great saves for us, we've got to play better for our goalie."
Ennis extends point streak
Ennis tied the game in typical Ennis fashion with 11:21 remaining in the third period. He carried the puck deep into the defensive zone, spun off the body of New Jersey's Stollery along the goal line and tossed the puck toward the net, beating Cory Schneider between the pads.
Video: BUF@NJD: Ennis ties game on tough-angle spin-o-rama
The goal was the third of the season for Ennis and his second in nine games since returning from a groin injury. He now has points in three straight games (1+2).
"I'm just trying to get better every day," Ennis said. "With every opportunity I get I've just got to make the best of it and keep capitalizing on opportunities."
The Sabres are back home on Tuesday to host the reigning Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks. It will be "You Can Play Night" at KeyBank Center, advocating for "inclusion, acceptance and respect of LGBTQ athletes in sports."
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.