While Cupid was slinging arrows on Valentine’s Day, the Buffalo Sabres shot themselves in the foot with a series of undisciplined penalties that ultimately became their undoing.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored three times and Martin Brodeur stopped 29 shots to lead the New Jersey Devils to a 4-1 win over the Sabres at First Niagara Center on Tuesday. The loss was Buffalo’s second in a row, after going 5-0-1 in their previous six games.
Buffalo took seven minor penalties in the game, including four tripping calls. A cross check by Mike Weber on Zach Parise at the end of the second period gave the Devils a five-on-three to start the third, and Petr Sykora made them pay with a power-play marker goal at 1:44 of the third that turned out to be the eventual game winner.
New Jersey finished the night two-for-seven with the man advantage, and recorded 16 of their 31 shots while the Sabres were shorthanded.
“I would say half were bad penalties, just flat-out bad penalties,” said Lindy Ruff, who was back behind the Sabres bench for the first time in four games since breaking three ribs last week. “Some of them I thought were a little suspect but they’re still bad penalties. It gave them energy and it took a lot of energy out of our players. It kept a lot of our better players on the bench for too long a period of time.”
Ruff was pleased with his team’s play at even strength, but admitted that all the penalties forced them out of their game plan against a Devils’ squad that is now 6-1-2 in their last nine games.
“We need pucks to go in from different people. Different lines have to contribute if we’re going to be successful. I thought that five-on-five we were doing a pretty nice job. I thought five-on-four, obviously, the game killed us. They’re a big team, they’re a heavy team. We knew that we were going to have to use our speed to get through them. I thought there were times we did. The big thing would’ve been getting the lead, force them out of their game but we didn’t. We gave them the lead.”
The best of Buffalo’s scoring chances came in the first period, but Brodeur was up to the challenge with a pair of big stops on Brad Boyes and Thomas Vanek.
“We had a couple of early chances which would’ve given us a little bit of momentum,” said Derek Roy. “We missed those, he made some good saves. Some of those we have to finish off the opportunity.”
Ryan Miller has watched Brodeur stifle the Sabres on numerous occasions, and knows what they need to do in order to get pucks past the future Hall of Fame netminder.
“We have to find ways to generate (offense),” said Miller, who made 27 saves tonight. “(Brodeur) can sit back and play a methodical game and read every play. When we give him every opportunity to, he can deliver on that. We have to creative and get inside and put pucks off him and make him spread out a little bit. The times we did do that, we got some chances, but he was equal to it. We didn’t get a lot more after it.”
The Sabres now have to prepare for three games in four nights, starting Thursday in Philadelphia at 7 p.m. They return home to face Montreal (Friday, 7:30 p.m.) and Pittsburgh (Sunday, 12:30 p.m.)
1-0 NJ: Kovalchuk finishes off the nifty passing play by burying Elias’ feed into the yawning cage. (19:24, PP)… Shots: NJ-8, BUF-8
1-1: Pominville’s pass from behind the net hits a Devils player and bounces over Brodeur’s shoulder. (17:19)… Shots: BUF-12, NJ-11
2-1 NJ: Sykora’s shot from the right faceoff dot hits Sekera’s stick and bounces past Miller. (1:44, PP)… 3-1 NJ: Kovalchuk redirects Henrique’s pass behind Miller (9:47)… 4-1 NJ: Kovalchuk finishes off his hat trick with an empty netter (19:51)… Shots: NJ-12, BUF-10
SABRES NOTES: Cody McCormick (upper body) and Matt Ellis (healthy) were Buffalo’s scratches… McCormick has now missed two games, and has not practiced since being injured against Dallas on Friday… Marc-Andre Gragnani returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the past six games… Gragnani is the only Sabres defenseman that has not missed a game due to injury this season.