Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – I think Friday night's 4-1 loss to Boston showed us that yes, the Buffalo Sabres are indeed a better team this season, but they haven’t even approached the level of the Bruins.
Buffalo didn’t play badly, but they showed that they still can’t handle a line that contains three of the elite offensive players in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand ate Rasmus Dahlin alive, and dominated on almost every shift they had.
It only took that trio 3:49 to give Boston the lead when Bergeron got in deep on Dahlin, forcing him to start losing the puck, and Marchand finished him off for the turnover. While this was going on, Pastrnak was doing what he does best - finding a crease in front of the net. Bergeron grabbed the puck off the turnover, gave it to Marchand who relayed it to the open Pastrnak, and the puck was in the net before Craig Anderson could blink.
The Bergeron line was completing long cross-ice passes that never should be completed and doing it all night. Minutes after the goal, Marchand easily gained the blue line backing off Mark Pysyk, he went cross-ice to send Pastrnak in through the right circle forcing Anderson into a big save.
The game was a learning experience for Dahlin, who played over 25 minutes but showed us he’s not yet up to going head-to-head against the NHL’s elite players. It’s a new role for him, and something he’ll need to adapt to.
After the game, head coach Don Granato said he thought his team was tight throughout the game. Dahlin certainly looked like a player that was tight. I think the question is, how does he respond?
Buffalo is also going to have trouble scoring in many games, as the team only scored once in the game with a late tally from Victor Olofsson.
Boston didn’t have much else going on Friday except for Charlie Coyle on special teams and former Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark making his first start for the Bruins. Ullmark was stellar, making 35 saves, and stood on his head in the final half of the first period when the Sabres kicked it into gear.
Dylan Cozens, by far, played his best game of the year and was absolutely robbed twice by Ullmark in the first. Buffalo was on a power play when Cozens put a backhand towards, what looked like, an open net. As the puck approached the goal line, Ullmark kicked out his back skate and the puck stayed out.
Cozens was great on the forecheck, beating the Bruins to pucks all night. His relentless back pressure caused turnovers, allowing the Sabres to re-gain possession and get going the other way.
Yes, he was on the ice for Boston’s second goal, a tic-tac-toe passing play that ended in a layup, but Colin Miller didn’t pick up the goal scorer Tomas Nosek.
On the same power play that Cozens was stopped by Ullmark, Tage Thompson hit the post. In the second period, Will Butcher read the play perfectly and jumped into the slot. Thompson had good vision on the play and found Butcher, who beat Ullmark but hit the far post solidly.
Early in the game, Ullmark made a big save on Vinnie Hinostroza on the doorstep, showing that he was ready to slam the door on his former teammates.
After the game, Ullmark said he had some luck on his side. That was evident in the first period when Robert Hagg came open down the slot and looked like he had a lot of net to shoot at. He fired the puck, but Jeff Skinner was cruising through the crease and the puck hit him.
Another lucky break for Ullmark came when a Sabres shot was wide, but came right back out in front. Thompson was there with an open net, but the puck bounced over his stick.
The Sabres left the ice knowing they played better than the 4-1 score would indicate, but when you’re playing one of the best teams in the NHL, mistakes end up in your net.
In all four games this season, the Sabres have had 33 or more shots on goal. Buffalo had numerous Grade-A chances, but Ullmark was huge at every turn until Olofsson broke his shutout with 5:25 to go.
Buffalo could’ve had a lot more Grade-A chances, but they still have the habit of passing when good opportunities are staring them right in the face.
Coming into the game, the Sabres' power play was ranked fifth in the NHL. On this night, they failed on all four chances and only produced four shots and a post. They go into New Jersey on Saturday night now 12th in the league.
The Sabres had also killed off all nine power plays that they had faced this season, but Coyle’s power play goal ended that streak. Despite that, the Sabres are still fifth in the league.
Miller picked up an assist on Olofsson’s goal and now leads the Sabres in scoring with five points in four games.
After going 3-1-0 opening the season at home, Buffalo gets its first road game where Granato isn’t going to get the matchups he wants. It’s also the first time this season that the Sabres have played on back-to-back nights.
With injuries to Casey Mittelstadt and Cody Eakin, the Sabres have no extra forwards, so winger Brett Murray was called up for the game.
The New Jersey Devils have started the season 2-1-0, but will be without Jack Hughes, who dislocated his shoulder. He had three points in two games. The Devils have also been missing Sabres killer Miles Wood, as well as goalie Mackenzie Blackwell.
This will be New Jersey's fourth game in a row at home, and like Buffalo, they don't get many fans to games, so that shouldn't be a factor.
Some of the new faces for the Devils this year includes free agent prize defenseman Dougie Hamilton, as well as blue liner Ryan Graves, forward Tomas Tatar and former Sabres winger Jimmy Vesey.
New Jersey is also without goalie Jonathan Bernier, so Nico Daws will make his NHL debut on Saturday. The 20-year-old was a third round pick of the Devils in 2020. He's only played one game professionally, and that was this season with the Utica Comets.
Daws spent three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Guelph Storm, and then played last year with Ingolstadt ELC of the DEL in Germany.
Join myself and Brian Koziol for pregame coverage starting at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday when we’ll be joined by Granato, as well as assistant coach Matt Ellis.