It hasn’t been a bad start to the season for the New Jersey Devils. The starts to games, however, are another story, and one they’ll look to rewrite when they host the Buffalo Sabres on Friday in Newark, N.J.
The Devils have been outscored 8-2 in the first period through their six games this season. On Wednesday, they spotted the Washington Capitals a 3-0 lead in the opening frame.
New Jersey responded with four unanswered goals in the second period before the Capitals connected for three in the third to hand the Devils a 6-4 loss.
“Our puck play was atrocious,” coach Lindy Ruff said after the game. “We couldn’t go tape to tape, and we were a soft team. I thought we got what we deserved.”
New Jersey has yet to score first in a game or hold a lead after the first period.
“It’s a bad habit that we’re in right now,” winger Tyler Toffoli said. “It’s definitely frustrating spotting a couple of goals to the other team and then chasing it. We showed that we can dominate games, periods and shifts. For whatever reason it’s just not there for us right now at the start.”
Star center Jack Hughes has been on a tear since the season began, amassing 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in a six-game point streak. He’s put forth a multi-point effort in five of the six games and has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in his past three outings.
The Sabres have begun to find their game after dropping their first two of the season. They’ve alternated wins and losses since then, most recently building up a 5-1 lead before skating away with a 6-4 win against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday.
Buffalo held the Senators to one goal through 55 minutes before yielding three in the final five minutes of the game.
After pumping 15 shots on goal in his previous two games, including 10 last Saturday against the New York Islanders, center Tage Thompson finally broke through and scored twice against Ottawa, bringing his season total to three.
Sabres coach Don Granato tinkered with his lines last week, putting Thompson between Dylan Cozens and Jordan Greenway. The towering trio — Thompson and Greenway are each 6 feet 6, Cozens is 6 feet 3 — played together late last season. Back then, Cozens was in the middle and Thompson moved to the wing as an injury limited his ability to take faceoffs.
“That line has played hard and direct,” Granato said. “Cozey is a very straight-line player, which drives defensemen back … and Greenway is the same.
“We felt, through watching it last season, that was a real benefit to Tage to have that straight line, guys driving defensemen back, keeping pucks low, extending possession with physicality, puck protection.”
Goalie Devon Levi remains out with a lower-body injury, dealing with soreness that has yet to resolve, per Granato. With good performances from Eric Comrie (two games) and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (one game) in his absence, the team won’t push him.
Levi participated in an optional morning skate on Oct. 21 but has not skated with the team since.