OK, OK. I know. The Sabres are playing the Devils tonight in HSBC. All 16 of the Devils, who continue to make a mockery of the league (my words AND Derian Hatcher's) by being unable to field a full team due to the salary cap. First-year coach John MacLean -- who threw his team off the ice at today's morning skate -- refuses to use that as an excuse for his 0-2-1 club.
I did not see MacLean's blowup. I was in the press room doing a Sabres blog post and heard the Devils leaving the ice, so I headed to the hallway by their dressing room door. The players walked by en masse and many were smiling and laughing. Hardly the reaction I would think MacLean wanted. We went in the dressing room for the next 10 minutes (talking to Henrik Tallinder and Adam Mair) and the interviews were cut short as Hall of Famer and assistant coach Larry Robinson pulled them all into a small office for another chat, termed as for the penalty killers. Uh-huh.
Maybe Robinson was reminding them about all the fans they have back in bucolic Newark. Maybe giving them a little of this:
Whatever. Jokes aside, the Devils have a serious situation going. They're 0-2-1 and their 14 goals against are the most in the league. Martin Brodeur has a 4.11 GAA and .859 save percentage (although Ryan Miller has hardly been a world-beater at 3.40 and .880).
Anton Volchenkov (nose) and Brian Rolston are out tonight, with Rolston heading into a four- to six-week absence for surgery on a sports hernia. Looks like they'll be able to get their desperately needed cap relief by putting him on longterm IR. And the man causing a lot of this trouble, $102 million winger Ilya Kovalchuk, has no goals and is minus-three thus far.
Let's just say this is a game you have to feel the Sabres need. They've never lost their first three home games under Lindy Ruff (it hasn't happened since 1993). In fact, they had not dropped their first two at home under Ruff (hadn't happened since the arena's 1996 inaugural under Ted Nolan). No crisis here yet. Emphasis on yet.
9:22 p.m.: The puck is dropped
4:07 left: Kovalchuk wins it with a bomb off the post on a Matt Taormina feed. Horrible play in the zone by Sekera, who might be watching from the press box on Friday. Terrible 1-0 loss.
16:00 left: Was wrapping up some print edition duties but you didn't miss anything. Still scoreless. Two shots for the Devils thus far. Nice music choice here: "One is the Loneliest Number."
13:49 left: Out of town, old friend Clarke MacArthur has his fourth goal in three games and the Leafs have a 4-2 lead at Pittsburgh on the way to a 3-0 start.
12:10 left: Miller stops Patrik Elias on a partial breakaway. It's the Devils who have found their legs. Shots are 4-0. Yep, nearly eight minutes without a shot for Buffalo.
10:28 left: Another huge cheer as Roy gets Buffalo's first shot of this period, an easy save that Brodeur holds on to. It's 5-1 for Devils in this period, and 31-17 for the game.
5:53 left: Couple good chances for the Sabres. Morrisonn just wide from the slot and Ennis stopped by Brodeur. Does it seem like these teams are just doing nothing dangerously so they get at least one point? It's a long time to drag that out. Attendance is announced as a sellout of 18,690. Pretty legit tonight. Almost no empties in the 300s.
5:10 left: Miller stops Langenbrunner from in tight after Niedermayer is outworked behind the net by Arnott, who pushed the puck in front.
21.0 left: With almost no whistles for four minutes, the action really heated up. Couple strong saves by Brodeur and Miller keeps the scoreless tie by robbing Zubrus at the tail end of what started as a 3-on-1. That can't happen in the final 30 seconds.
We go to OT: Shots were 8-8 in the third and it's 34-24 for the Devils. First OT for the Sabres. Devils are 0-1, losing their opener to Dallas.
Of note: Scorers have taken away the Myers shot on goal and changed the first-period count to 15-1. Must have looked at a replay and determined it was going wide? Did it not get through? Didn't see a replay but it clearly looked like it was a pad save and you heard the thud? Hmmm. Update: The ruling was that the shot hit Vanek in the leg and never got through.
18:26 left: Myers loses the puck at the blue line to cause an offside. The point men have simply not been strong enough on the PP. Stafford had a shot 36 seconds into the period to draw more Bronx cheers -- and equal the first period total.
16:02 left: Brodeur's best save as Roy curls around Andy Greene and gets in alone. One of the few times you've seen some real chug in the legs of a Sabres forward. The Devils only have three lines. Shouldn't the Sabres' strategy be to skate them out of the building and wear them down?
12:52 left: Finally seeing some skating here. Fourth line had a good shift at the start before getting hemmed in and needing Miller to bail them out. Grier outskated Tallinder in the Devils' end and Montador fired wide on a good drop pass. Brodeur just made another shot on the Sabres' seventh of the period. (Devils have four).
9:00 left: Gotta hand it to Puddy's Devils. Even with skill guys like Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, they play some deadly boring hockey. Maybe that's why they've been 0-2-1 so far -- too wide open. They've got it tightened back up tonight. Sabres have a 9-5 edge in shots in this period. Good thing for the folks here this was only a Value game. Not much bang for their few bucks.
7:05 left: Fourth line has good pressure but Kaleta takes a bad interference penalty in the offensive zone by dumping Jamie Langenbrunner. Excellent shift by McCormick, who again used his size to work down low and got a good shot off that Brodeur had to stop.
6:20 left: Miller stops Jason Arnott's hot one-timer up in the neck area. He's a little stunned by that one.
2:21 left: It's definitely opening up. Probably plays more to the Sabres advantage. Shots are 13-10 for Buffalo in this period.
1:05 left: Brodeur stops Vanek on a slapper from the right wing and then from the circle right off the faceoff. Sabres have 15 shots this period.
End-2nd: It's zip-zip through 40 minutes. Shots were 15-11 for the Sabres and 26-16 for the Devils. You know how sometimes a low-scoring game can have riveting action? This is not one of them.
Of note: Three ex-Sabres in the Devils' starting lineup. Adam Mair, making his New Jersey debut, is at center and Dainius Zubrus is at left wing (David Clarkson on the right). And old friend Henrik Tallinder is on defense. The Sabres are going with Stafford-Roy-Hecht, with Leopold-Montador on defense.
More alumni news: The Rangers have just sent Tim Kennedy to Hartford of the AHL in order to make room on the roster for Chris Drury. Guess that arbitration decision worked out well for the South Buffalo kid, huh? Shoulda taken the deal, Timmy. Shoulda taken the deal.
The gold "Pominville Population" sign that hangs nightly above Section 312 and counts up No. 29's goal total is in its usual spot. Next to it instead of a number, however, is a white banner that says simply, "Get Well Soon".
19:03 left: Montador goes for delay of game for a puck-over-glass violation. Yeesh.
17:00 left: terrific kill by Hecht, Connolly, Grier among others. Devils never got set up until final 30 seconds and Miller made just one save. Kovys, however, have first five shots of the game.
13:22 left: Sabres doing very little in the Devils' zone. Still no shots on goal against the team with the worst defense in the league thus far (14 goals in three games). Pretty funny to look at the Devils' bench and see all the players spread out and comfy, compared to what looks like a tight fit on the Buffalo side. That's what happens when you play this short-handed.
12:44 left: Sekera cranks one off the post past a beaten Brodeur. Still no shots.
11:20 left: Big hit in the corner on Mark Fraser lands Kaleta in the box for charging. McCormick was with him.
9:10 left: Another penalty over after Miller robbed Clarkson from just to the right of the crease. Great stretch of the leg. Shots are 9-0. As in more than half a period gone with no offense.
8:05 left: This is '09-10 Miller goaltending. He just robbed Travis Zajac after a brutal Hecht giveaway on a blind pass to the slot and then stopped our man Kovalchuk from in tight. It's 12-0 on the shot clock. Yes, 12-0. Brodeur must be wondering if he's got a full team in front of him!
7:42 left: McCormick understands situations. He just went toe-to-toe with Fraser and got it going with a huge left. Fraser came back and won the second half of the bout with a few rights but that at least got the crowd back into this one.
5:32 left: Sabres finally get a break as Clarkson goes for goalie interference. The way the 2-for-15 power play has been thus far, we'll see how big a break it really turns out to be. Shots are 14-0. Almost Bills-like.
The lines tonight without Pominville are Stafford-Roy-Hecht, Ennis-Connolly-Vanek, Grier-Niedermayer-Gerbe and Gaustad-McCormick-Kaleta. Same defense pairs: Leopold-Montador, Morrisonn-Myers and Sekera-Rivet.
3:42 left: Gerbe gets the first shot, a 10-footer from nearly on the goal line to Brodeur's left -- and the crowd lets out a huge Bronx cheer. The power play was downright silly. Connolly continues to give the puck away at the point and guys are consistently outworked for it along the wall. Nice tip by Vanek goes wide and no other real chances.
24.9 seconds left: Classic Kaleta-drawn penalty as he pounds Travis Zajac right in front of Rob Ray and then Zajac gets the roughing call on retaliation.
End-1st: With the crowd roaring -- basically begging -- the Sabres to shoot, Myers does and Brodeur makes a solid pad save in the final 20 seconds. So we're scoreless through one and the shots are 15-2. The Sabres' passing has been sloppy, they've accomplished nothing on their forecheck and simply aren't skating anywhere close to the way they did against Chicago. Brodeur has been terrible thus far this season and they haven't challenged him at all. Chalk this one up to Miller and come out better in the second. Yikes.