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Five observations from New Jersey vs Buffalo:
1. Cory Schneider was excellent
The big question mark heading into Sunday afternoon's game was how Schneider would respond from picking up his first win since December of 2017. Would the confidence that comes with finally getting a positive result help him put together another quality showing, or would he revert back to the goalie we saw consistently for better than a year? Thankfully, it was the former.
Buffalo tested Schneider with 35 shots and 23 Grade 'B' scoring chances. Not crazy numbers, but hardly a walk in the park. In particular, they really came on in the 3rd. New Jersey didn't have much pushback so the game was put on Schneider's shoulders. And he came through.
What's most encouraging is how Schneider looked en route to a 34/35 performance. He didn't get caught out of position or stumble into pucks. He was always in the right spot, his movement was fluid, and he was able to make a couple 2nd effort saves you wouldn't expect him, or most goaltenders, to stop.
Schneider has now turned aside 49 of 50 shots faced over the last two games while winning both of them. Though that doesn't help #TheTank, it's important to get Schneider back on track considering the Devils still have $18 million committed to him over the next three seasons.
2. 5v5 offense remains an issue
The Devils won the 5v5 battle 2-1 – they can thank Schneider for that – but, once again, creating shots, chances, and sustaining offensive zone time was an issue. In 51 minutes of 5v5 hockey, they only tallied 35 attempts, 19 shots on goal, and four high-danger chances while mustering up just 1.47 expected goals. It wasn't like the Devils spent time in the OZ and simply couldn't break the defense down. They were chasing Sabres around in their own third of the ice a lot, especially as the game wore on. Credit to the Devils for making the most of the opportunities they did get but they can't rely on that every night. If they want to find success – and be remotely entertaining – they need to generate more offensively.
3. Miles Wood was a factor
The Devils were not exactly a dominant puck possession side to start. With several missing pieces, including the team's best player in Taylor Hall, they spend even more time on their heels and rely more on the counter-attack, which plays right into the hands of Wood. There's no better example than yesterday's game vs the Sabres. On a few occasions, they lost possession and he darted up the ice to create a chance for himself; or simply took the top off the defense in order to make it easier for his linemates to navigate their way through the neutral zone.
When all was said and done, Wood scored a goal and recorded a team-leading four scoring chances despite seeing less ice than all but Drew Stafford, Brett Seney, and Kurtis Gabriel.
4. Net-front defense still needs work
I thought New Jersey's half-court defense was pretty good. Considering the amount of time they spent on their heels, there weren't a ton of breakdowns. Still, there's room for improvement, especially around the crease. Early in the game, the Devils had Jack Eichel trapped behind the net. After giving him a few seconds to evaluate his options, a couple of defenders attacked him at the same time, leaving the front of the net exposed. Being the player that he is, Eichel threaded the needle in front and the Sabres generated a great chance when they had no business getting one.
Then there's Buffalo's lone goal. ~Four seconds after a faceoff, Zach Bogosian found a wide-open Sam Reinhart just a few feet from the net. Rightly or wrongly (hard to say given we don't know if it was a set play off a lost draw), Damon Severson quickly attacked the puck. He didn't get to it in time, nobody covered for him, and the rest was history. Again, there weren't a ton of mistakes but some of them were pretty glaring.
5. Kyle Palmieri stepped up
No. 21 was very, very good. The Devils recorded more 5v5 chances with him on the ice than any other forward. He scored a beautiful late goal off the rush to put the Sabres away. He picked up a pair of primary assists, including one on a perfect cross-ice pass to Miles Wood. He also registered four shots on goal. He hasn't made much of an impact at 5v5 since Taylor Hall went down with an injury but he was one of the Devils best players – if not the best – in that game state on Sunday.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
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