On Wednesday night, the New Jersey Devils celebrated their first win since Dec. 8. Forward Jack Hughes led his team to a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center, as Hughes and Jesper Bratt recorded a goal and two assists for a three-point night.
It was the first game for both teams since the COVID pause, and entering the contest, the Devils and Sabres shared a 10-15-5 record. Head coach Lindy Ruff’s team played a complete 60-minute game, and seven different players hit the scoresheet. Here are four takeaways from the Devils’ win.
Devils’ Impressive First Period in Buffalo
For the first time in a while, the Devils hit the ice with a healthy roster. The team looked rested and had the first three shots of the game. Within the first five minutes, Sabres forward Kyle Okposo was called for high sticking, and it took New Jersey about 40 seconds to set up and get the puck to Dougie Hamilton, who scored his team’s first goal of the night. The power play has been a huge area of concern this season, but since Ruff added Nathan Bastian to the first unit, the Devils have scored on the man advantage in their last two outings.
“He’s [Bastian] huge for us on the power play. I think we were missing that net-front guy,” Hughes said. “He’s not only a presence, not only can he screen the goalie, but he’s really good on puck retrievals and getting those second and third chances. He’s been playing really well on our PP, and pretty excited to see him out there. He’s been great for us.”
New Jersey controlled the pace of the game for the first 20 minutes and limited the Sabres to only three shots on goal. Defenseman Ryan Graves blocked four shots and P.K. Subban led all Devils players with three shots on goal. Bratt scored the Devils’ second goal of the period after picking up the rebound on Subban’s shot.
Hughes and Bratt Lead Their Team to Victory
Hughes and Bratt had an excellent game. Last night was Hughes’ fourth three-point game in the NHL, and Bratt now has 27 points in 30 games. Last night, Ruff put both players on a line with Yegor Sharangovich, who scored the eventual game-winning goal, and the line combined for eight points.
“We were guys that felt we needed to step up, to take a bigger role, and we did that,” Bratt said after the game.
Bratt is having a career season and is now tied for the team-lead in goals with nine. Three of those goals were game-winners, as he quietly makes a name for himself. Ruff has been juggling his lines all season, but the one constant has been Bratt, who has made every one of his linemates better.
Devils Who Returned From Protocol Made a Difference
The Devils had an advantage over the Sabres, who are dealing with their own COVID outbreak. New Jersey finally had a healthy team, and there was a noticeable improvement with the additions of Nico Hischier, Graves, and Subban. The Devils’ captain played 16:40, including time on the power play and the penalty kill, and Graves was reunited with Hamilton as the team’s top defensive pairing.
Subban arguably had one of his best games of the season and, with Ty Smith, was a plus-3. The defense had only one giveaway, while the team as a whole had three giveaways. Graves played 19:11, including a team-leading 1:41 of short-handed ice time.
Devils’ Inability To Hold a Lead a Concern
The Devils played a great game, but there is always room for improvement. The team has collapsed at points of the game, which has cost them the win. It happened against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 18 and when they hosted the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 16. Last night, Tage Thompson scored two goals in under four minutes to begin the second period and tie the game. After his second goal, the momentum shifted to the Sabres, and the Devils were lucky to escape the period still tied.
Up Next and New NHL COVID Protocol
Ahead of the game, Jimmy Vesey was placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol; he joins Tomas Tatar and Jon Gillies. Yesterday, the NHL announced changes to protocol that includes isolation for five days instead of 10. After that time, if the player has no symptoms, they can leave isolation and return to practice and games as long as they test negative.
The Devils next face Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers at Prudential Center for a matinee game on New Year’s Eve. They will be looking to win two consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 11. Fans can watch the broadcast on MSG +, and those in attendance should note Prudential Center has updated its policy to comply with the city of Newark; face masks are now required during the game except when actively eating or drinking.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.