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Observations: Sabres refuse to take excuses in solid win over Devils

Observations: Sabres refuse to take excuses in solid win over Devils

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Sabres Devils Hockey

New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (29) deflects the puck as Devils center Janne Kuokkanen (59) checks Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt (37) during the first period Tuesday at the Prudential Center.

NEWARK, N.J.  There's a lot you can say about the Buffalo Sabres the last few days. On a variety of topics. Here's one of the best points to be made Tuesday night: With every chance to go feel sorry for themselves in the finale of a road trip, the Sabres refused to wilt to everything going on around them.

Back-to-back games. Crushing loss the night before on Long Island. A third defenseman down on a long-term injury. Noise over the lineup. A team still coming back from its Covid-19 outbreak. It sure looked like the weight of things was too much when the New Jersey Devils got 11 of the game's first 13 shots on goal.

Then, the Sabres found their legs about halfway through the first period and never lost their edge. In a solid 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, they looked like the team with a lot more energy.

"We had a surge, just a battle and compete level that was impressive," coach Ralph Krueger said. " ... We're pleased with just a really solid team effort. Specialty teams, 5-on-5, everybody really participating within the framework we're trying to do.

"From the goaltending through the 'D' and into the forwards, real nice team effort today and a good spirit on the bench. Real important for us psychologically in this moment."

"Just kept it simple," said Victor Olofsson, whose power-play goal midway through the second period opened the scoring and gave the Sabres a lead they would not relinquish. "The bodies were a little bit tired. Kept it smart and (goaltender Linus Ullmark) saved us. He played a really good game. Solid performance overall."

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Dominance with the man-advantage: The Sabres controlled the puck for both of their second-period power plays, with the top unit never needing to leave the ice. The second one was a shooting gallery on MacKenzie Blackwood until Olofsson finally beat the Devils goalie at 10:20 of the second off a Rasmus Dahlin feed.

It came after a frenzied possession that saw Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart both ring shots off the goal post. Reinhart and Taylor Hall worked hard down low and the Olofsson goal came with seven seconds left in the power play.

"We were kind of laughing, honestly," Olofsson said. "Two posts, a few other chances. We knew it was going to come if we kept moving the puck like that and it did."

The power play entered the night tied for third in the NHL and second on the road. The Sabres have now scored at least one power-play goal in 10 of their last 11 games, going 14-for-34 (41.1%).

"The persistence in the power play was a psychological war they went through after almost four complete minutes in the zone," Krueger said. "Scoring that late in the second one, they just stuck with it.

2. What about the goaltending?: Ullmark and Carter Hutton have combined to give up only 13 goals in the last six games, and all those preseason questions about what might happen in net have gotten quite a bit quieter.

Ullmark stopped the 11 early Devils shots and was 20 for 20 in the third period until losing his shutout bid on Nikita Gusev's shot with 28 seconds left.

"I felt really good out there," Ullmark (5-4-2) said. "Coming in after the tough loss last night against the Islanders, it was really nice to get a feel of the puck at the beginning and the guys were helping me out there, keeping them on the outside so I could have some easy saves."

3. Bryson makes a strong showing: Defenseman Jacob Bryson, playing in place of the injured Will Borgen, had a solid NHL debut that saw him play 17:59 and post a plus-2 rating. He moved the puck well and hit a post on a 2-on-1 break with Taylor Hall in the first period.

"He participated in the game without any fear," Krueger said. "Just another good find for us on the defense where we're going to need depth moving forward. It was encouraging to see that today."

4. 5-on-5 scoring: The Sabres crashed the net for third-period goals. Rasmus Asplund got the first one on a mid-air deflection of a Sam Reinhart shot, and Dylan Cozens tallied 94 seconds later on a backhand pass from Taylor Hall. 

"It was a little scrum in front of the net there and I tried to go to the net," said Asplund, whose goal was his second in 32 NHL games. "It came there and I got a pretty good piece of it and it was an exciting goal for sure.

5. The Skinner situation: Jeff Skinner did not play for the second straight game, as Asplund took his place in the lineup for the injured Tobias Rieder. The Sabres have had 73 shots on goal and scored six goals in the two games Skinner has been out. Coincidence or not, it is certainly going to give Krueger food for thought when the Devils come to town Thursday.

Krueger said he understands the fan and media chatter around Skinner, who has no goals and one point this season, while making $9 million.

"We are aware of that. It is a noise that's deserved for the entire situation," Krueger said. "We are working in a constructive way here hoping that watching a couple of games will free him and allow him to bring his tools and his assets into our game. We need his game. We need his 5-on-5 scoring. We need his threat."

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