New Jersey Devils at Buffalo Sabres Game Preview 1/30/21

The Buffalo Sabres welcome Lindy Ruff and the New Jersey Devils for their first of two games this weekend. The New Jersey Devils are in a tough position with their roster at the moment, goaltenders Mackenzie Blackwood and Aaron Dell are on the COVID protocol list, along with forward Travis Zajac. Forward Nico Hischier, defensemen Will Butcher Sami Vatanen have yet to play a game this season steaming from offseason injuries.

Sam Reinhart suffered a minor injury against the Rangers on Thursday night and won’t suit up for Saturday’s contest with the Devils. He’s day-to-day according to Coach Ralph Krueger, so we’ll see if he suits up for tomorrow’s matchup. Tage Thompson re-enters the lineup and is expect to play on the top line with Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson.

Expected Lines:

Buffalo Sabres

Olofsson – Eichel – Thompson

Hall – Staal – Cozens

Rieder – Eakin – Okposo

Skinner – Sheahan – Lazar

McCabe – Ristolainen

Dahlin – Miller

Montour – Jokiharju

Ullmark

New Jersey Devils

Johnsson – Hughes – Bratt

Gusev – Zacha – Palmieri

Wood – Sharangovich – Merkley

Kuokkanen – McLeod – Bastian

Murray – Subban

Smith – Severson

Kulikov – Tennyson

Wedgewood*

*Unconfirmed, but expected

High Quality vs Low Quality Chances

One main storyline to begin the season is the high danger shot attempts the Sabres have produced at 5v5 play. They currently sit fourth in the league with a high danger shot percentage (61.11%). To further break it down further, the Sabres have 66 high danger shot attempts for and 42 against.

As for the Devils, their current analytic data looks vastly different. While they are similar in chances for and against to the Sabres overall, New Jersey’s high danger shot attempt percentage is 29th in the league sitting at 40.8%.

This stark difference should be visible this afternoon for those looking to match the eye test with the analytical analysis, as long as both teams stick to their current trend. High danger shot attempts/scoring chances certainly do not tell the whole story of a team, especially considering the Devils has 7 points in 7 games while the Sabres have 8 points in 8 games. It all comes down to finishing, which the Sabres need to do especially with New Jersey missing their top two goaltenders.

Sabres Cannot Repeat Thursday’s effort

The Devils won’t win the game with skill. They have good young players on their roster, but on paper, the Sabres have the superior talent. New Jersey can’t control injuries and protocols, but they can control their effort. I fully expect the Devils to play a full 60 minutes, churning their legs the entire night. It’s hockey and the most skilled team does not always win. If the Devils pounce on mistakes while limiting penalties and quality scoring chances, there is no reason to believe they cannot win this game.

The Sabres can not have a repeat of Thursday night against the Rangers. Linus Ullmark was the main reason why the Sabres were able to get a point out of that game. They were flat, they know it and it can’t happen. Again, this is a depleted Devils lineup, these next two games need to result in 4 points.

Let’s relive a couple unreal stops by Ullmark

Lindy Ruff Coaches His 1500th game

This isn’t specific to the game this afternoon as he accomplished this feat on Thursday, but coaching 1500 games in the NHL deserves recognition, especially since he still feels like one of our own. Ruff was the coach the team when I and many others fell in love with the Sabres and the sport of hockey. Regardless of how things ended, the great memories vastly outweigh the negatives. Stick tap for Lindy and his family.

Prediction

The Sabres defeated the Devils 7-2 and 7-1 in their two meetings last season and with a depleted lineup, it’s not out of reach, but a 4-1 win feels like a safer bet.

Looking Ahead

Puck drop Sunday against the Devils is at the same time as Saturday, 1 P.M., followed by a two games series against the Islanders on Tuesday and Thursday at Nassau Coliseum.

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