Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Game: Devils @ Buffalo, 4 of 4

Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will end their road trip and play their last game this month in Buffalo against the Sabres.

Gametime: 7:00 PM EST
Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils Record Vs. Sabres: 2-1-0 Preview

The New Jersey Devils put out a good effort last night to defeat the New York Islanders 3-2 and it is possible for them to end the month of March and this road trip on a high note. I must emphasize the word opportunity in the sense that it is possible that the Devils can win tonight just like it's possible that any team can beat any other team on any given night. The Devils are playing one of the top teams in the NHL, the leaders of the Northeast Division, and the likely owner Eastern Conference #1 seed. Of course, I am referring to the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sabres will have home ice to help them roll their 3 scoring lines (and 1 character line, for a lack of a better term) against the Devils. The Sabres are healthier now than the last time they hosted New Jersey and they haven't gotten any worse. No, they are still led at center by Daniel Breire (31 G, 58 A)and Chris Drury (35 G, 27 A). Lest you forget, Buffalo is loaded with scoring talent all over the place: most notably Thomas Vanek (37 G, 37 A), Jason Pominville (32 G, 30 A), and trade deadline pick up Dainius Zubrus (16 G, 39 A). They already have their playoff berth secured, yet they are showing no signs of taking it easy before the post season. They would love to get a win over the Devils, considering New Jersey won the last two games against Buffalo 3-2 and also considering that Buffalo played very poorly last Saturday in a 4-1 loss to Toronto. The Sabres plays like a well oiled machine that is good at stopping the puck thanks to Ryan Miller (35-16-6, 2.79 GAA, 91 Sv%, 1 SO); and even better at putting the puck in the other team's net thanks to...well, most of their forwards (Buffalo leads the NHL with a 3.63 goals scored per game average).

Needless to say, the Devils must be strong defensively. I must note that the last time the Devils visited Buffalo, they were playing with a short bench - missing Colin White and Brian Gionta due to injury. They amazingly won that game. However, while the Devils will have a full roster of players this time, they are without top checking center John Madden - who was instrumental when the Devils beat the Sabres in Buffalo earlier this season. The Sabres are a team that doesn't need to have opposing defenses make a lot of mistakes to produce goals. They'll shoot a lot and when the defense does make a mistake - and this is especially true for the pairing of Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya - the Sabres will pounce on it like something fierce, be it missed coverage, a give away, a poor clearance, whatever.

On the offensive side of things, the Devils should be feeling good. Patrik Elias is back and Scott Gomez is seemingly back to playing a lot better than recently. David Clarkson looked good on that first line, giving them a physical edge, and I see no reason for that unit to change until Brian Gionta returns after April 1. The PZL unit was also good last night, I see no reason to believe they won't be good tonight. They scored 2 power play goals last night, so there's confidence on special teams to go with those two scoring lines. That said, the Devils must not let up on offense, they should not try to put 5 skaters behind the puck to protect the lead. Martin Brodeur is great, but reverting to defense only late in the game would just be asking for the Sabres to make a comeback. The Sabres have the weapons, they can do that without a problem.

However, the Devils shouldn't be firing at all cylinders for offense at all times. If the Sabres decide to make this game up-and-down hockey for the better part of 60 minutes, they're going to have the edge (along with the home crowd, the last line change, etc.). Again, they have no shortage of talented forwards who can skate well; whereas the Devils do not play that style for an entire game. Personally, I don't think the Devils have enough to keep up with the Sabres for that long; especially considering that they played the Islanders last night. I'm sure the Sabres will try very hard to accomplish this.

One way I think that can be avoided to some degree, the Devils should try to score first and set the pace a little slower - looking to hurt the Sabres defense the same way they did last night against the Islander blueliners with the transition game. Again, John Madden will be missed here, as he's very good at taking turnovers and turning them to offensive chances (as far as shot accuracy, however, well, that's another story).

In any case, the Devils have a shot to end a relatively poor month on a high note and to continue to secure first place in the division. If the Devils put out a good, strong team effort, I think it's possible. Don't expect the Sabres to roll over and just let things happen, however - they are far too good for that. All the same, GO DEVILS!


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