After one of the worst-officiated games of the season, the Devils valiantly killed off an atrocious overtime roughing call on Marek Zidlicky, only to fall to Ryan Miller in a predictably miserable shootout effort. Overtime ended with Tyler Ennis taking a cheap shot on Adam Henrique with no fear of any consequences, perhaps forgetting that these two teams would meet again later that week.
On Thursday, expect another physical, chippy, grinding game between two teams that are falling apart at the seams this year.
With the Devils relegated to backup goaltending, the team that once led the Eastern Conference has fallen squarely into the clutter of a shortened season’s playoff race. Johan Hedberg has been horrible, Keith Kinkaid is back in the AHL, Jeff Frazee is backing up Moose on Thursday, and the Devils goaltending situation is driving their losing streak.
The offense has sputtered. New line combinations don’t seem to be making any difference, while the top-line still lacks punch. The Devils failed to add any offense in the off-season but they lost a top-line winger. Their performance recently shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
The defense is failing as well. It doesn’t help that their goalie cannot make a key save when the Devils need one, but many of the scoring opportunities that have led to goals can be traced back to poor pinches by Zidlicky, bad defense around the net, and sloppy play. The New Jersey defense can’t do anything about Hedberg poking a pass through his own five hole, but they certainly haven’t helped him much.
Still, I have faith in the Devils. The offense finally found a way to generate consistent pressure in the tail end of Tuesday’s loss – first with a shorthanded goal and then with some sustained forechecking. If they can start finishing their chances, they can outscore their opponents regardless of who is in net behind them.
The Devils desperately need a win, while the Sabres started to rebuild when they fired the face of their franchise last month. Motivation is on the Devils’ side.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Buffalo Sabres beat New Jersey, and the Devils’ losing streak sputtered along a little further, and Lindy Ruff found his way there?
Don’t rule it out, because if New Jersey keeps playing like this, Peter DeBoer is not safe – even after a Stanley Cup run.
In the golden years of Martin Brodeur‘s playing career, the Devils need to win right now. I think they’ll pull out a victory against Buffalo this Thursday, and finally get back on track in time for Brodeur to get healthy – but DeBoer could be running out of time if he fails to turn things around against an Eastern Conference bottom-feeder.
New Jersey Devils 3 – Buffalo Sabres 2