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Posted at 11:45 AM EST.
3:00 PM EST. OT included. That first win can sometimes be very illusive. The Sabres lost their opener to Montreal, 3-2. On Saturday night, they went into Brooklyn and lost 6-3 to the Islanders. Against the Isles, Robin Lehner was pulled after allowing four goals on 16 shots and therein lies one of the problems for Buffalo. We’ve said it a million times and it’s worth reiterating that goaltending is the #1 deciding factor in the outcome of games. Give us the better goaltender and we’ll take our chances 100% of the time. Robin Lehner is not only wildly inconsistent but he’s a head case too. In what was projected to be a turnaround year for the Sabres, they’ll come into this game winless and feeling some pressure. We like the Sabres but they are much more appealing in the role of the underdog.
Meanwhile, the Devils are coming off a 4-1 opening day win over the Avalanche. A win over Colorado doesn’t do much to increase their stock but we loved what we saw. Defenseman Will Butcher was a big reason that the Devils power-play scored three times. Making his NHL debut, Butcher ran one of the power-play units and assisted on all three of the team's PP goals. His puck movement and decision making were a big reason why the Devils pursued him so hard in August and it paid immediate dividends. Butcher is not the only Devils rookie that made an impact.
Nico Hischier went scoreless in the his NHL debut, but the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft was everywhere on the ice. His speed, puck handling and poise were evident throughout, and he finished third on the team with six shots. Then there’s Jesper Bratt. It's easy to point to his one goal and one assist and call Saturday a great game for the 19-year-old, but he did plenty more. Bratt logged 4:47 of penalty killing time, trailing only Gibbons and defenseman Mirco Mueller for the team lead. He was relentless in puck pursuit during his PK time, and it helped set up his shorthanded assist in the third period. Lost in the offense and strong showing by the Devils' rookies was the play of goalie Cory Schneider, who carried over a strong preseason into a 40-save, one-goal effort. Schneider saw some Grade-A chances and remains one of the best in the game. The Devils also have some solid vets and a great outlook.
The Devils had a long 10-day layoff between their final preseason game and Saturday's opener, so it would have been natural to expect them to lose a little bit of their edge after a 5-1-1 exhibition slate. But the Devils kept their intensity up in practice, and the identity they strived to establish in the preseason seemed to carry over into the season opener. What we know for sure is that the Devils are loose, confident and had a great opener while the Sabres are feeling a bit nervous and will come into their third game of the year with inferior goaltending.
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