The New Jersey Devils resume their season against the Buffalo Sabres tonight after the NHL returned to play last night. The 2021-22 NHL season had been paused since Dec. 21 after the COVID-19 Omicron variant caused numerous outbreaks among the 32 teams. The Devils have not played in 10 days – a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 19. Let’s take a look at some storylines ahead of this evening’s game.
2 Storylines: Buffalo Sabres (10-15-5)
Tuch, Krebs Set to Debut for Sabres
Alex Tuch was one of the key acquisitions for the Sabres from the Vegas Golden Knights in the trade for Jack Eichel back in November. The native of Syracuse, New York has not played in 2021-22 after undergoing shoulder surgery last offseason.
Peyton Krebs, another of the acquisitions by the Sabres in the Eichel trade, will debut for the team in tonight’s game as well. He, JJ Peterka and Arttu Ruotsalainen were assigned from the Rochester Americans to the Sabres yesterday in preparation for the resuming of the season.
Acting head coach, Matt Ellis, said the following about Krebs and Peterka, “they’re both great hockey players in their own right, they both bring different things to the table, and they’re big pieces to what we’re trying to do moving forward. To get them in and get a live look, we’ve certainly been watching a lot on video. So, it’s pretty cool to have them in the mix and look forward to building off today into tomorrow” (from ‘Sabres set for night of debuts with Peyton Krebs, JJ Peterka, Alex Tuch,’ The Buffalo News, 12/28/21). Ellis has been the acting head coach with Don Granato in COVID-19 protocol.
Tokarski Returns to Practice
Dustin Tokarski, who has been in COVID-19 protocol since testing positive for the virus on Dec. 3, returned to practice for the Sabres yesterday. The goaltender has played in 14 games this season and has a record of 4-5-3. His goals-against average (GAA) is 3.28 and he has a .903 save percentage (SV%).
General manager Kevyn Adams commented about Tokarski’s health, “we learned last year everybody is different so we have to listen to what he has to say, think it through, talk to trainers, talk to doctors. We need to make sure he’s got to get himself up to speed before we can make any kind of decision moving forward with Dustin” (from ‘Sabres’ Dustin Tokarski has lingering issues coming off COVID-19,’ Buffalo Hockey Beat, 12/28/21).
2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (10-15-5)
Several Players Return to Practice
The Devils received good news as a number of players returned to practice after being placed in COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Nico Hischier, P.K. Subban, Ryan Graves, Jesper Boqvist and Christian Jaros were back at practice last Sunday. The Devils have felt the absence of these players as they have been in a slump during December. The team has gone 1-8-1 in their last 10 games.
In regards to being back at practice, Graves said, “we’ve been struggling a little bit as of late and then to not be able to help that, you just feel helpless and you feel like you’re kind of letting your teammates down. But I’m happy to have it over with and be healthy now, and kind of get past it with a nice little pause for everyone to get healthy again.”
Tatar, Gilles Enter COVID Protocol
Tomas Tatar and Jon Gilles entered health and safety protocols last Sunday. Tatar has six goals and eight assists in 30 games this season for the Devils. Gilles, for the St. Louis Blues and Devils this season, has played in two games, has a 0-1-1 record, a 2.97 GAA and a .902 SV%.
The Devils will look to end their disastrous month of play on a positive note beginning with tonight’s game against the Sabres. The team is closer to getting back to full strength with several players being removed from COVID health and safety protocols. Having Hischier back will be significant for the Devils as the team has missed their captain in the lineup.