Since the shootout has been instituted in the wake of the 2004-05 lockout, the Devils have been arguably the most successful team in it. With legendary goalie Martin Brodeur adapting well to the skills competition and scoring aces like Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner that hasn't changed this year. One of the few goaltenders that's had close to Brodeur's success in the shootout plays for Buffalo however, and Ryan Miller made an emphatic case towards winning Team USA's starting job by making 39 saves in 65 minutes of hockey, then two more in the skills competition against the aformentioned Parise and Langenbrunner to give a tired Buffalo team a 2-1 win.
Unfortunately for me the shootout (and five-minute overtime) was about all I saw of the game last night, as I was playing a game of dodgeball of all things during it - and personally doing about as well as the Devils' offense of late, though my team did win. From what it sounds like, at least the Devils played much better last night defensively and territorially with a 40-31 shot advantage over a Sabres team just getting back from a brutal seven-game trip out West. Not satisfied with being in the division lead still, Lindy Ruff changed things up benching two starting defensemen last night. Maybe we should try benching a couple of forwards sometime, though it's not as if we have a lot to replace them with.
Obviously you have to take last night's failure to score with a grain of salt, for Miller is putting together a Vezina-worthy season and shined in a potential Olympic matchup with Brodeur, the likely starter for Team Canada. And on the bright side, at least Brian Rolston finally earned a few sawbucks of his $5 million salary last night with a goal, a typical slapshot up the wing at 14:51 of the second period. Even more astonishingly, Johnny Oduya (and his $3.5 million salary) got the assist on Rolston's sixteenth goal of the year, just Oduya's third point in 37 games this season - which barely puts him ahead of goaltender Brodeur.
Of course the Devils had to come from behind again after Adam Mair's deflection of a Derek Roy shot beat Brodeur at 14:14 of the first period, a twenty minutes that the Devils otherwise dominated with a 15-9 edge in shots. Strangely there were only two minor penalties called in the entire game, with one being a delay of game by the Sabres in the first period and the other a supposedly contreversial goalie interference call on Langenbrunner in the third. Neither team's power play cashed in and I believe we still remain one for the decade on the man advantage.
Hopefully that'll change tomorrow night when I'll be in attendance (just my third game this month as things have worked out) to see the first of our three games against the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs in eight days. While I won't go so far as to say we should get five points in this mini-playoff series I will say if we can't score offensively against the Leafs' wonderful goalies - Vesa Toskala and the summer sensation Jonas Gustavsson - then we're not going to score against anyone until reinforcements arrive, one way or another.
What did change last night was our shootout success, which usually consists of either Parise or Langenbrunner - or both - scoring and Brodeur slamming the door shut. However, the only door slamming shut in Buffalo was the one in front of Miller's crease as he stonewalled the two Devils' aces, while Brodeur had an ill-fated attempt at a pokecheck against Jochen Hecht and looked bad allowing an easy goal there. While Brodeur is often successful at this maneuver, against an average (to be kind) offensive player isn't the time to try it unless you're absolutely sure he's not looking up. When Jason Pominville beat Brodeur clean in the third round, it was time to turn out the lights on last night's contest.
Notes: Danius Zubrus played his second game in a row off of IR so hopefully we're out of the woods there. Patrik Elias has resumed off-ice activities and allegedly Paul Martin and David Clarkson are close to skating as well. Illka Pikkaranen wasn't claimed by any NHL team so rather than assign him to the AHL, the Devils will let him play for a Russian KHL team the rest of this season. Oh well, at least he managed one fluke goal before returning to obscurity.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Ryan Miller (39/40 saves, shootout win)
- Adam Mair (goal, +1)
- Brian Rolston (goal, +1)