Kevin Weekes played very well and it is an absolute shame that the Devils could not help him out as he helped them out in the first period. The Sabres, to their credit, absolutely rolled the Devils in that period. Thanks to Weekes and a defense that only became effective in the absolute clutch, the Devils were lucky to escape with only one goal against. But the Devils were terrible in these twenty minutes. For starters, the Sabres controlled the tempo from the start in what seemed to be the running theme of the night - the Sabres can complete passes, whereas the Devils cannot. Because they kept swarming the Devils' zone, all New Jersey could really do is clear. And as the Devils could not maintain possession, they could not generate offense; hence, the pathetic amount of 3 shots on net by the home team. The Devils took the awfulness to a new level by handing the Sabres 5 power plays in the same period. Amazingly, it was after they killed a 5-on-3 did Jason Pominville finally get a puck above Weekes' sliding legs (in a butterfly stance) to score. I emphasize the finally as the Sabres had 20 cracks at it all period. Outshot 20 to 3 and a magnificent effort from Weekes kept the score low. And Weekes' effort was the shining silver lining in a dark grey cloud of horribleness that was the rest of the Devils.
To be honest, I also saw some moments that show why Weekes isn't a starter. There were a number of plays where most goalies would smother a puck or ensure a rebound goes a little farther and into better locations for their own defense. Weekes didn't really do either in those cases; but thanks to an alert defense, it didn't cost New Jersey. Not to steal Weekes' thunder, he did truly play well, I'm just pointing out some miscues.
Now, in the second period and onward, the Devils defense finally got their minds right and started playing preventative defense. Such that they would stop the Sabres on offense before they could shoot. I know, a novel concept. This was aided by the fact that Lindy Ruff, coach of Buffalo, decided that the team should hang back. The second could have been the Devils' version of the first had they didn't spend most of the period giving away pucks. Seriously, forget what happened in the offensive zone. They couldn't make good passes in the neutral zone. When they finally did learn how to move the puck in there - using the tried and sometimes true method of dumping it in from last season - the Devils actually started generating some scoring chances. By the end of the second, I figured the Devils would continue the momentum and make Buffalo pay for sitting back.
But, oh, how was I wrong with the third period. The Devils made errant passes to waste opportunities, errant shots that would hit Sabres and not the net, and whereas the Devils were incredibly successful in burying loose pucks down low recently, they couldn't snag a clear shot off one at all. On a scale of 1 to 10, the Devils' offense was miserably awful. Fair play to Ryan Miller for making the saves he needed to; he did well. Also, credit must be given to the Sabres defenders who knew that if they collapsed in the slot, then they can stop the Devils from cleaning up loose pucks for goals. They also knew that if they challenged puckhandlers with aggressive positions, then they could either force a bad pass, block a shot, or force a Devil to miss the net. They did stand back, but the Sabres were ready for New Jersey. Again, by the third period, they knew about the dumped pucks, they responded well to them, and kept forcing the Devils to try and beat them. And they couldn't. While the Devils on defense did their job in limiting Buffalo to 5 shots; Patrick Kaleta's shot hit a Devil (I think) and it beat Weekes to ultimately seal the deal. The Devils offense was stopped stone dead.
What makes this loss so particularly frustrating was that the The Devils were handed opportunity after opportunity to get back into this game. The Sabres dropping into a shell since the start of the second period. The SEVEN
power plays (seriously) the Devils had tonight (and some of them weren't bad, but they didn't build anything from them). Kevin Weekes' putting in a strong performance in their own end. But everyone on offense had a bad night, to say the least. Petr Vrana was miserable. Nicklas Bergfors played like he was in Lowell. Dainius Zubrus didn't really get going. Brian Gionta was inconsistent. Patrik Elias missed the net 6 times. Zach Parise couldn't get anything going and was ultimately ineffective despite his hustle; the same for Travis Zajac. John Madden couldn't muster any extra offense. Defensemen, namely Anssi Salmela (who was called up to fill in for Paul Martin, who had upper body soreness according to Gulitti
), trying to power home loose pucks high from the point consistently missed. It wasn't like the Devils didn't try, what they tried didn't work and instead of adjusting and simplifying their game, they kept trying again. It's frustrating to watch and we can only hope they get it right for Wednesday's game against Tampa Bay. Especially on the power play.
Labels: 2008-09 Postgame, Devils Issues