The New Jersey Devils were dominant in shootouts last season, winning 12 of those contests to solidify a playoff position.
This year, the Devils have yet to find that success. It might make their push toward the playoff that much more difficult.
The Buffalo Sabres (9-12-1) defeated the Devils (10-6-5), 4-3, in a shootout today at the First Niagra Center. The loss dropped New Jersey’s losing streak to four games (0-3-1) and kept them just two points ahead of the eighth place Philadelphia Flyers. New Jersey also dropped to 2-5-2 in its last nine games.
Jason Pominville and Tyler Ennis scored in the shootout for Buffalo, who have won three in a row to begin its slow climb from the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. The win also snapped a three-game home losing streak.
Pominville opened the shootout with a goal past the glove of Johan Hedberg. The Sabres captain slowly skated into the Devils end, surveying all his options before firing a wrist shot past Hedberg.
Ennis sealed the win in the next round, finding a small gap in Hedberg for the shootout winner. Buffalo’s center brought the puck straight into the slot and sent a wrist shot between the right pad and blocker of Hedberg.
The Devils goalie finished last season 5-2 in shootouts and had a career mark of 23-8. He’s 0-2 this season, losing to the Boston Bruins and Buffalo. He finished with 20 saves on 23 shots and has lost his last five starts.
New Jersey was blanked by Ryan Miller in the shootout. Ilya Kovalchuk beat Miller in the first round, getting the Sabres goalie to commit to a low shot and lay flat on the ice. The Devils right wing couldn’t finish, sending his shot off the crossbar.
Adam Henrique tried to beat Miller glove side in the second round, but the Buffalo goalie snatched his shot to win the game.
Miller finished with 28 saves.
Pominville opened the scoring in the second period, scoring the first of his two goals with Buffalo short-handed.
Cody Hodgson chased a dump into the corner of the Devils zone, deflecting a pass from Marek Zidlicky. He found Pominville alone in the slot, and the Sabres right wing snapped a shot low to the right post for his eighth goal of the season.
It was the fifth straight game the Devils allowed its opponent to score the first goal. New Jersey has won just one of those games (1-3-1).
Steve Bernier tied the game just over two minutes later. Stephen Gionta took the puck away from Robin Regehr, sending a pass to Mark Fayne at the right point. His shot deflected off Bernier and past Miller for his sixth goal of the season.
The third period saw an offensive explosion neither team has seen much this season.
Henrique gave New Jersey a 2-1 lead with a short-handed tally at the 18:39 mark of the final period. The Devils center intercepted a Pominville pass at the Buffalo blue line and broke in alone on Miller. His shot beat the Sabres goalie blocker side for Henrique’s fifth goal of the season.
The score was New Jersey’s league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season. The Devils led the league with 15 short-handed goals last season.
Pominville atoned for that mistake less than two minutes later, converting on a 2-on-1 rush with Hodgson for his ninth goal of the season.
Adam Larsson turned the puck over after sending a pass off the side boards and past Kovalchuk. Steve Ott jumped on the loose puck, sending a pass to Hodgson in front of the Devils bench. The Sabres forward carried into in New Jersey’s end, sending a pass cross ice to Pominville in the right circle. He buried his shot as Hedberg went to the splits to tie the game.
Jochen Hecht followed that goal, netting one of his own to push Buffalo ahead, 3-2. He brought the puck into the Devils end, speeding around Bryce Salvador and sending a shot on net that Hedberg stopped. Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko collected the rebound and fed Hecht behind the net. He skated out to the right of Hedberg, sending a backhand shot that deflected off the stick of Bernier and went over the right pad of Hedberg.
The goal was Hecht’s first of the season.
Andrei Loktionov pulled New Jersey even with his third goal of the season. Kovalchuk held the puck at the blue line, sending a pass to Stefan Matteau in the left circle. The rookie sent a pass to Loktionov, who received the puck in the right circle. He skated into the slot and held the puck, forcing Miller to go down on the ice. The Devils center put it into the open net.
Loktionov has points in a career-high five straight games.
New Jersey will look to break its losing streak Monday, when the Devils finish its road trip with a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kovalchuk played in his 800th game, recording an assist in the loss.
Ryan Carter, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a concussion, recorded an assist.
New Jersey has lost four straight games for the first time since February 24, 2012 to March 1, 2012.