For about 46 minutes, the New Jersey Devils kept pace with the Buffalo Sabres. When the Sabres made mistakes with the puck, the Devils could not convert on chances; and vice versa. Both teams stayed out of the penalty box for the most part, with each team only receiving one power play. Though you could argue that the refs, Dan Marouelli and Ian Walsh, were very generous at times. Going into the third, the score reflected the game: a 1-1 tie between two very good teams. Jochen Hecht fired a hard shot through a screen to put Buffalo up first; Scott Gomez put home a juicy rebound from Patrik Elias' shot on a 4-on-4 situation to tie it up in the second. The top forwards for both sides looked alright; though the Devils got more shots on net than Buffalo (and did so in total), the Sabres made Brodeur work pretty hard as well.
However, the third period was clearly a Sabres period despite the Devils out-shooting them 11-8. Daniel Paille was left all alone and Martin Brodeur was well out of position as he put home a rebound through Brodeur's legs to give Buffalo a lead. Then came the defensive breakdowns. The Devils, I believe Brian Rafalski bobbles the puck up at the point leading to a 3-on-2 rush by Buffalo. Rafalski gets back fast enough to try and stop the puck carrier, Daniel Briere, but Briere blows through him. Now here's the real mistake: Colin White then crosses over from the middle to go after Briere. Now, Briere is good; but it's Martin Brodeur in net. Let Brodeur focus on the shooter. Why White wasn't covering Jochen Hecht or Jason Pominville who were flying down the flank is beyond me. Simple defense states that the goaltender should face the shooter with the defenseman trying to cover/manage the other open men to force the puck carrier to shoot. Instead, Hecht and Pominville were all alone and despite Brodeur diving to take away the bottom half, Hecht gets a perfect pass to simply fire a high one-timer over Brodeur for the two goal lead. Broduer may have let up a soft one (the Paille goal), but he was hung out to dry on that one.
To give the Devils credit, they did challenge Ryan Miller with shots - who stopped a number of quick shots from the slot, robbing New Jersey of some goals - and they didn't give up despite the deficit. A few minutes after Hecht's second goal of the night, Paul Martin takes the puck in himself, manages to keep the puck despite three Sabres around him, and fires a backhand that just fooled Miller to pull New Jersey within one goal.
The Devils fighting back, maintaining some possession, and you start to think whether the Devils can mount another comeback. Hey, why not? They did it to Buffalo the last time they visited the HSBC Arena. They did it on Saturday to Florida. Then Brian Rafalski takes a shot from the point where Chris Drury somehow strikes gold by batting it down in mid air and right down the middle of the rink. It's another 3-on-2 odd-man rush for Buffalo. This time, Dainius Zubrus takes it up, drops it back and to the left to Ales Kotalik who hangs back and fires a wicked one-timer that just beats Martin Brodeur to the post and in for goal #4.
Again, to give the Devils credit, the Devils didn't roll over, they pulled Brodeur for an extra attacker and Zach Parise was rewarded in front of the net by putting it in late to pull within one. However, unlike basketball, you can't score in hockey from center ice with 2 seconds left. The Sabres broke through and made the most of some sloppy play on defense by NJ to get the win. Yes, the Devils defense did a good job by forcing Buffalo to only hit 23 shots on net - but the Sabres made the most of their mistakes and Brodeur did let up a soft one. While the loss is disappointing - most losses are - the Devils remain in first in the Atlantic Division by virtue of having more wins than Pittsburgh. While the Devils did somethings right - plenty of shots on net, not many penalties, hustled all game long - the defense will need to improve as defensive mistakes and miscues have been a cause (not the cause, but a cause) as to why the Devils have struggled recently.
Now, an apology. I thought this was the last game of the month. It is not. The Devils do have one more game remaining in March: they host Philadelphia on the 30th, this Friday. I apologize for any confusion. Hopefully, the Devils can sharpen their game at both ends and end the month on a high note.
Labels: Devils Postgame