What a game for the Devils faithful to watch from the comfort of their seats because THIS GAME was smooth sailing, start to finish. From a fans perspective, its good to see my team get the "W" in a game thats decided by more than 1 goal. A very easy, stress free game that was played well on all fronts. Brodeur played arguably one of his best games of the year, Kovalchuk was all over the Sabres defense and had Ryan Miller's number, and the Devils defensemen played to standards. Along with that, our powerplay clicked for 2 out of the 4 goals! Onto the review...
The first period unlike the other two was a period that appeared to be very even. Shots on goal were 8 a piece in the 1st, despite Kovalchuk's goal, both New Jersey and Buffalo seemed to have brought their A game. Despite Buffalo's 8 shots on net, it was New Jersey's opportunities in the period that shined brightest. On the powerplay in the 1st period, Buffalo would only manage to kill off one of two, scoring on the second one, a penalty taken by Sabres forward Thomas Vanek for tripping just before the 19 minute mark in the period. Vanek would conclude the evening with a +/- ratio of 0, managing 2 shots and no goals while recording a very lazy 2 minute minor for tripping which ultimately led to a beautifully executed passing play. A tic-tac-toe style of passes from Kovalchuk, to Elias, back to Kovalchuk for the powerplay goal which was fired on a nearly empty net after twisting Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller inside out. The powerplay goal would be the first of two for New Jersey in the game, and first goal of three by Kovy on the night. The Devils would walk into the locker room with a lead for the first time in 3 games after the opening twenty minutes, 1-0.
As all Devils fans are WELL aware of, we know this is a team that has a brief track record of collapses in the closing 40 minutes, and the second period might have been another prooving factor. Buffalo would strike late in the middle stanza, when the captain Jason Pominville would get credit for a wacky goal that looked more like a pinball than a hockey puck as it would nestle itself up and over the right elbow of Brodeur after bouncing off of and taking a ricochet off of multiple Sabres and finally NJ Devil Dainius Zubrus before finding its way in the net for a tie game. You would begin to think that after a weird goal like that, one that broke a shutout late in the second, it would be a BIG momentum swinger for Buffalo; that was not the case. In a second period that was filled with scoring opportunities for both teams that were eventually staved off by the tremendous skill at both ends of the ice, the gentlemen playing between the pipes, both of whom are former Vezina Trophy winners, it was one big save by Brodeur, followed up by one for Miller. The goalies in these Buffalo-New Jersey games are spectacular! Like Brodeur-Lundqvist Devil-Ranger games, these games played against Buffalo, regardless of the score, are always entertaining to me, as are games played against the Habs. You truly get to see the work of real NHL Elite goalies. Brodeur would shut down 10 of 11 shots in the period, while Ryan Miller at the opposite end would close off 12-12.
The teams would begin the 3rd period tied at 1 goal each. The catch... New Jersey would be on a breif 5-3 powerplay due to two late second period penalties called on Sabres' Christian Ehroff for tripping (which was killed off in the 3rd) and then a Mike Weber cross-check issued at the 20 minute mark. Weber's penalty would be the 4th Sabre penalty called in the 2nd period, (4th of 7 total for Buffalo). The third period is where the game would rip wide open and most certainly in favor of New Jersey! Not even 2 minutes into the closing period with the score tied, it would be New Jersey up on the 5-3 powerplay. Like I had written before, Buffalo would manage to hold off the odd man opportunity for the remaining seconds on the first penalty. It was that last penalty in the second period that was called on Weber that would come back around to bite Buffalo right in their back's as they'd get lit up on a goal blasted by Petr Sykora being fed from Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique for the Devils' 2nd powerplay goal of the game.
With his name in mention, id like to direct a bit of focus on our rookie Adam Henrique. Henrique concluded tonights victory over Buffalo with 2 assists for 2 points, a +/- ratio of +1, while only taking 1 shot; with Adam's 2 point night, he now leads all NHL rookies in points with 37. Henrique passed Edmonton's rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tonight for points in his 48th game on the year; Adam has played in 8 more games (48), scoring 1 more goal (14) and 1 more assist (23) for a total of 37 points, 2 ahead of Nugent-Hopkins. Henrique is a +9 on the year (ranked 6th amongst NHL rookies), tied with team mate Zach Parise for the league lead in short handed points with 7 each, 2 ahead of team mate Ilya Kovalchuk (5). The 22 year old fan-favorite is making his presence known league wide showing he can play along side NHL superstars night after night and being able to contend with the big guys. Despite only having 14 goals (91st league wide) which is a decent amount of scores for a rookie playing with names like Kovalchuk, Parise, Elias, and Sykora (Clarkson too!) on his team, Adam Henrique leads the NHL, rookie or not, with 4 short handed goals.
After Sykora scored what would be the eventual game winner, it would take a few minutes for the red light above Miller's cage to light up again. Scoring his second goal of the night, it was Ilya Kovalchuk; just before the halfway mark of the period Kovy would put another one past and through the Sabres defense and goalie for his 24th of the night. Henrique would be the lone assist on Kovy's 2nd. A couple penalties would be called in the 20 minute window of play before regualtion would conclude such as a whistle for a trip called on Devils defenseman Andy Greene which was killed off as well as Derek Roy's second tripping penalty of the game, which, was killed off as well in the closing minutes of the game. With time winding down and Miller dashing to the bench, a turnover would send Ryan retreating to his crease, diving to make a save on a shot fired at an empty net by Petr Sykora, which, rang LOUD off the cross bar and went out of play. A faceoff would be won back by the Sabres and carried into the zone before a transition would commence, leading to a mad dash by Parise and Kovy to score the empty netter. After a couple of nice defensive moves by scrambling Sabres defensemen, it was gathered up by Parise, as he dealt it back to Kovalchuk, who would fake a defender and put it in the net, cashing in on his first career hat trick as a member of the New Jersey Devils.
4-1 would be the final score in First Niagra Center, Buffalo, New York as the Devils would see a very easy victory against a team that has been bad in games of late. Regardless of where they sit in the playoffs, Buffalo always puts up a fight and its always a great game, regardless the outcome like I said before. New Jersey now sits 1 point behind idle Pittsburgh (5th) and Philadelphia (4th) who both have a tie for 4th place in the Eastern Conference with 69 points. As well as gaining points 67 and 68, the Devils now maintain a 2 point lead over Ottawa in 7th place with 3 games at hand in concluding their 56th game against the Sabres this evening and a 6 point lead over 8th place Toronto. New Jersey resumes play back home at The Rock Friday night against the "Not-So-Mighty" Ducks of Anaheim who are a team that is in the center of what seems to be EVERY trade talk/rumor in the league right now as the deadline approaches. "To buy, or to sell... THAT, is the question." As if William Shakespear would have worded it. Anaheim has a -.500% win percentage claiming victories in 23 of 56 games, losing 24 in regulation, and gaining the 1 point in 9 games lost that have lasted longer than 60 minutes. The Ducks sit in 13th place in the Western Conference with 55 points after defeating the Minnesota Wild this evening, 2-1.
**Be sure to follow us on Twitter at @RWTDblog or you can follow me at @DEVIN88MATTERA**