Sabres Crush Devils 6-1 in Latest Home Debacle

Buffalo 6         Devils 1

Not only did the New Jersey Devils lose badly to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night, but rookie coach John MacLean may have lost one of his superstars — making Ilya Kovalchuk and his $100 million dollar contract a healthy scratch. Kovalchuk was not made available to the media after the game, but MacLean was — and the only explanation for the odd move was, “I’m not going to get into it. That’s between him and I. That was my decision.”

The Devils’ players that did play in the 6-1 thrashing, didn’t show any signs of life after the first five minutes of the game and fell to a disappointing 0-4-1 at the Prudential Center this season. “Early on the Devils were the team that was rested and they came hard,” said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, “but we settled into an organized game and got the pucks where we needed them.”

When asked if he welcomed the team’s upcoming six-game road trip that begins Sunday night at MSG, New Jersey’s David Clarkson didn’t hold back, stating: “It couldn’t get any better. I think it’s an opportunity for us to get to know each other better; a chance to get on the road and do some team bonding, go out together. I think just a thing where you get to know everybody; that’s something that will help us out a lot.”

Miller was his usual stingy self in nets for the winners, turning aside 26 of the 27 shots he faced; his only error of the night was when his US Olympic teammate Zach Parise ended the netminder’s shutout bid with 8:35 left in the game. Offensively the Sabres seemed to score at will against Johan Hedberg, who was making his Devils debut — and it was an ugly one as he was pulled after surrendering four goals on 13 shots.

Even Martin Brodeur (who shutout the Sabres 1-0 last week) was unable to stop the barrage of goals and was touched up for two goals by Thomas Vanek. The Austrian sniper almost completed the hat trick, if not for Brodeur’s glove save with 2:27 left in the game. “Great save; great goaltender,” said Vanek afterwards. “I thought that was one of my better shots of the game — he just made an unbelievable save on it.”

Buffalo got goals from four different goal scorers — Drew Stafford 6:57 of the first period, Tyler Myers at 16:33, Tyler Ennis at 3:10 of the second and Patrick Kaleta at 8:17 — before Vanek netted his pair to seal the victory. “I don’t think I played as well as I did some of the other nights where I didn’t score,” said Vanek humbly, “but I got two tonight. Obviously I’ll take it and hopefully I can keep it going.”

Even his teammates had no clue that Kovalchuk wasn’t playing until they arrived in the late afternoon and they didn’t know why he wasn’t playing, but didn’t use it as an excuse for the dreadful performance. “I had no idea until I got here this afternoon, so I’m not sure what happened or what’s going on,” said Clarkson in the somber Devils locker room. “We’re all professionals no matter who’s in or who’s out; we just have to go out there and still play our game. Kovy’s obviously an unbelievable player and adds so much to this team, but we have to still go out there and play better than we did tonight.”

We may never get an explanation as to why Kovalchuk was scratched from the game (for the first time in his career), but MacLean may be playing with fire (and his job) if he decides to bench one of the league’s premier goal scorers on Sunday night against the rival-Rangers.

Game Notes: Kevin Boss from the New York football Giants, a frequent visitor at the Rock, was in attendance among the announced crowd of 14,228. Hedberg’s career record against Buffalo entering the game was 12-2-2. Five different Sabres had two-point nights: Jordan Leopold, Derek Roy, Rob Niedermayer, Mike Grier, Vanek and Ennis. Ex-Sabre Henrik Tallinder was a game-worst -3; Three Sabres (Leopold, Ennis and Steve Montador) were a +3. Leopold led all skaters in ice-time with 24:50 and Andy Greene led New Jersey with 23:08. Vanek led all players with seven shots on goal, while Clarkson led the Devils with six. Buffalo (3-5-1) is off until Tuesday when they play at Philadelphia (3-3-1) and New Jersey (2-5-1) next plays at the New York Rangers (3-2-1) Sunday night.

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Thomas Vanek (Buf) – 2 goals (3)

#2 – Ryan Miller (Buf) – 26 saves, win (3-4-1)

#3 – Tyler Ennis (Buf) – goal (2), assist (5)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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Devils-Sabres Postgame Quotes [10.23.10]

Thomas Vanek:

Your team’s first goal changed the game around…

“Yeah, early on they came with some good pressure, but once we scored I think we kind of relaxed and played our game; just played really a patient game. We finally capitalized on our chances.”

You were going against a guy in (Johan) Hedberg that hadn’t been in nets for a while and it can’t hurt to get any type of shot on him right?

“Well especially because usually against Jersey we can’t generate much, so our main focus was just drive the net, get pucks there and see what happens.”

You have three goals now in the last three games now, that has to feel good for you?

“It’s nice; I don’t think I played as well as I did some of the other nights where I didn’t score, but I got two tonight. Obviously I’ll take it and hopefully I can keep it going.”

Last night I thought your line was flying the last two periods and didn’t get anything out of it…

“I thought last night we were better. We generated more (scoring chances) than I thought we did tonight, got quality chances and just didn’t bury them. Tonight we got a few and hopefully we can continue it.”

 

Your team is so good on the road and not so good at home, can you figure this out?

“It’s hard. Like I said, I thought we played well yesterday. Every time we tied it up, we had good chances to get the lead. One breakdown or two breakdowns and we were playing from behind again.”

The second goal in the first period helped your team’s confidence tonight, right?

“Yeah sure; once you get that 1-0 lead, you have to stay patient but obviously when you have that chance you have to go get that second, third one, fourth one just like we did tonight. We have to start putting teams away.”

Talk about your first goal tonight…

“It was just a perfect cross-ice pass (by Derek Roy), it finally didn’t hit a skate or a stick or anything and just a real, clean pass. It was a pass from the side and I just jammed it in, a great pass by Derek.”

You almost got the hat trick with 2:27 left in the game with your shot from the slot…

“Yeah, great save; great goaltender (Martin Brodeur). I thought that was one of my better shots, of the game — he just made an unbelievable save on it.”

You scored your second goal 26 seconds after they scored, how big was that?

“It was nice, obviously up 5-1, we have a pretty good lead, but we have the mentality: if we get scored on, let’s just come right back and score on them. On the play, I came in and tried going low glove, he made a great save; just a lucky bounce that it came right back to my stick and I put it in.”

Ryan Miller:

Do you think the way you are playing on the road means that the home problems will be able to be fixed?

“Yeah, it’s just patience with our game; the other night (against New Jersey) it was a chess match out there. A lot of times it’s dictated by who scores first — we scored first (tonight) and its who can hold on and be willing not to make that mistake or turnover. You have to get the puck in and work the other team, establish some speed in the neutral zone and things were better tonight than the night before.”

Nice to see some offense from guys like (Mike) Grier and (Rob) Niedermayer tonight?

“Eventually they were going to chip in. Tonight was a great example of getting around the net, creating more and guys scored from in tight.”

Do your early season struggles get pushed away when you have a game like this?

“We hope its something we can build off of; it’s how you react now. I think last night, losing a tough one at home, against a division rival — you want to see how you react. I thought tonight we came out and I thought we did a good job of getting established. Early on the Devils were the team that was rested and they came hard, but we settled into an organized game and got the pucks where we needed them.”

David Clarkson:

When did you find out Ilya Kovalchuk wasn’t playing tonight and how did that factor into the game?

“I had no idea until I got here this afternoon, so I’m not sure what happened or what’s going on. But we’re all professionals no matter who’s in or who’s out, we just have to go out there and still play our game. Kovy’s obviously an unbelievable player and adds so much to this team, but we have to still go out there and play better than we did tonight.”

Upcoming is the longest road trip of the season, is it coming at a good time?

“It couldn’t get any better. I think it’s an opportunity for us to get to know each other better; a chance to get on the road and do some team bonding, go out together. I think just a thing where you get to know everybody; that’s something that will help us out a lot.”

Is it good that it’s the Rangers tomorrow where the antenna is always usually up when you cross the (Hudson) River?

“No matter what the score was in the third period tonight, we had to get ready for tomorrow. We have to come out and play that first period tomorrow as hard as we can and the way the Devils play or else we’ll be in trouble. We have to go out there and get back to our game.”

John MacLean:

Why was Kovalchuk scratched?

“That’s between him and I; it was my decision.”

It was your decision, not management’s decision?

“It was my decision.”

Any regrets?

“No, I take responsibility for all of my decisions that I make — including responsibilities for games.”

Will he play tomorrow?

“I’ll make that decision in the morning.”

He could have played? Is he healthy enough to play?

“I’m not getting into it one way or another. I told you it was the coach’s decision, it was my decision.”

So was it a non-hockey matter or hockey related?

“As I said I’m not discussing it. It’s my decision, I made it. He knows, I spoke with him and that’s where it’s going to stay.”

Was it a distraction for the other players?

“I hope not.”

Then how do you explain 6-1?

“I’m still having trouble finding the answers for that myself. Ultimately it falls on my responsibility to get these guys prepared to play.”

Who’s left?

It has been one month and one day since free agency started and there are still some notable unrestricted free agent names who have yet to find a home. These are serviceable players, who if they find the right situation (i.e., linemate, coach, system), they can be a valuable asset to any hockey team and I’d be shocked if they are still not signed with a club…be it in the NHL or in Russia, Sweden, wherever…by September 1.
Here’s the best of who’s left:

PLAYER — OLD TEAM — THE LOW DOWN

Maxim Afinogenov — Buffalo — Could be headed to KHL, thought he’d fit well with Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta.
Marc-Andre Bergeron — Minnesota — Has one of the NHL’s hardest shots, but his defensive abilities are questionable at best.
Todd Bertuzzi — Calgary — Big Bert hasn’t gotten an offer from Calgary yet, and won’t. His size could be useful to a team like Detroit, for the right price.
Mike Comrie — Ottawa — After a midseason trade to the Sens, Comrie didn’t do much. Still, a few teams looking for a center could sign the 28-year-old to a one-year deal; he could work out in New Jersey if signed.
Manny Fernandez — Boston — Proved last season he can still tend goal in the NHL, but will he accept another backup role?
Mike Grier — San Jose — Solid, checking line, penalty killing forward is a hard worker who should be signed soon; preferably with the Devils, but could also help the Islanders or Toronto as well.
Robert Lang — Montreal — A risk coming off of a torn achilles at the age of 38, but most teams are in the market for a dependable center. Would Ottawa have enough cash to sign him to play on line two with AK-27?
Manny Malhotra — Columbus — I’m shocked he didn’t end up back in Columbus, as he seemed to really mature and develop under Ken Hitchcock there, but they also signed Sammy Pahlsson, who plays the same role. Would love for him to join the Devils though, Tampa could be an option too.
Miroslav Satan — Pittsburgh — His agent Twitted (or tweeted, whatever) that the Isles are interested, but not buying it. I say he goes to either Vancouver or the KHL. I’ve given up on the dream that Satan would join the Devils (for now).
Mats Sundin — Vancouver — Will he play, or won’t he? At 38, what does Sundin have left? If he isn’t going to give a full season, no one will want him after performing so poorly last season with the Canucks.
Petr Sykora — Pittsburgh — Has bounced around too much for a guy that can score when motivated or in the right situation. I’m thinking he lands in Minnesota or St. Louis.
Alex Tanguay — Montreal — The best of what’s left as far as I’m concerned. Will hate him less for his two-goal performance in Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals if he signs with New Jersey. He’s only 29 and still has some productive years left. Join the Devils Legion Alex, join us.

Hopefully in the coming weeks, some of these guys find work, preferably with the Devils!

New Coach is an Old Friend

The New Jersey Devils have announced that Jacques Lemaire, who led the franchise to its first Stanley Cup in 1995, (and coached the team from 1993-98) will return as he successor to Brent “quitter” Sutter. Personally, I like the move, because I feel it will give the team some stability — after about 5 coaches in the last six seasons. Maybe he can fix whatever was wrong with Brian Rolston last season — Rolston enjoyed some of his best seasons playing for Lemaire’s Wild in Minnesota, but struggled mightily under Sutter, providing zero offense. John MacLean was passed over again for the head coach job, and now he will be the head coach for their AHL affiliate in Lowell. Good job Lou Lamoriello, now start adding some players!  Alex Tanguay is still out there, Mike Grier, Manny Malhotra, and Robert Lang are available too as unrestricted free agents….or swing a trade with Boston for Phil Kessel