After successful road trip, Devils lose to Sabres at home

After a long five-game West Coast trip, the New Jersey Devils returned home to the Prudential Center to take on the Buffalo Sabres. New Jersey had a winning record on their trip, going 3-1-1, and looked to continue their momentum at the beginning of their three-game homestand. Someone looking to get off to a good start for the Devils is Nikita Okhotiuk (2019 second-round draft pick), who was making his NHL debut.

In the first period, no one gained the upper hand as both teams went into the intermission scoreless. The Devils did have a shot on goal advantage (10-8), faceoff percentage (64%), and a powerplay; however, they could not capitalize on their chances. The slow start was odd considering that both starting goalies had a goals-against average above three, Andrew Hammond (3.70) and Craig Anderson (3.15).

In the second period, there would be some scoring after Kyle Okposo netted a wrist shot from almost center ice for the shorthanded goal and a 1-0 lead. Okposo was throwing the puck on net during a Devils line change from beyond the blue line, and Hammond seemed to lose track of the puck. Okposo's shot was like a split-finger fastball starting belt high then dropping off the table and ending up on the shoe tops.

Just 47 seconds after Kyle's 21st goal of the season, Alex Tuch would double Buffalo's lead with his 12th of the year. Tuch's goal came on a rebound chance from the side of the net after a breakaway opportunity by Victor Olofsson. Alex threw it immediately back on net and got a lucky bounce off the inside of Hammond's left leg for the second Buffalo shorthanded goal.

With the ice completely tilted in their favor, the Sabres continued punishing the Devils, making their lead 3-0 late in the second after a Rasmus Dahlin goal. Dahlin took a wrist shot from just beyond the right faceoff dot that he didn't get all of because of his stick-breaking, which deflected off Dawson Mercer's skate in front of Hammond and in for his 12th.

Finally, New Jersey would answer as they got a three-on-two odd-man rush just before the end of the period, with seven seconds left on the clock to get the game to 3-1 before the third. Jesper Boqvist got the play started in the defensive zone and got the puck to Michael McLeod along the boards gaining the offensive zone. Boqvist drove to the net while McLeod fed him in front, and after a bit of a scramble in front, Jesper jammed it home for his 10th of the year.

New Jersey would need to come out and score in the first five minutes of the third period if they wanted to have a legitimate chance of winning. Luckily for them, they would do just that with the help of their debuting defenseman Nikita Okhotiuk for his first NHL goal. The Devils did an excellent job on the forecheck, creating a shot from Janne Kuokkanen that deflected off of Craig Anderson to the opposite faceoff circle that left Nikita with half an empty net and would not miss.

Unfortunately for the Devils, that's when the Sabres turned things around, with a youngster of their own scoring his first NHL goal, in 2021 first overall pick Owen Power. Jeff Skinner set up Power after a great outlet pass from Tage Thompson. Despite Skinner falling down trying to spin away from P.K. Subban, he made a nice pass to Owen that he slid past Hammond five-hole with eleven minutes remaining in the game.

Buffalo would put this one to rest but not before another goal. This time, Jeff Skinner scored his 32nd of the year, a huge improvement from his seven goals last year. Tage Thompson hit Jeff Skinner with a great cross-crease pass in the low slot that Skinner put top-shelf, sealing the victory for the Sabres.

Disappointing is the word that I would use to describe the first game of the Devils' homestand. To play well on a tough West Coast road trip only to come home and lose to a Buffalo team that's beatable. Hopefully, the Devils can right the ship on Saturday at 12:30 when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes as the season comes to a close next week.