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Five Observations: Sabres top Devils 4-3 in a shootout

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Posted at 3:53 PM, Jan 30, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — All of the extra hockey Buffalo's been playing lately has kept the Sabres' point streak alive. But the blue and gold wound up on the right side of a shootout against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.

The 4-3 win is Buffalo's third win in the last five games. It's also the Sabres' fourth game in the last five that went to overtime or a shootout. Jack Eichel's shootout goal wound up being the difference-maker in the victory. The Devils and Sabres are back at it again at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday at KeyBank Center.

Five observations from Saturday's game:

Bend, don't break

A perfect penalty kill is nearly impossible. And offensive zone penalties were killer; those can't happen. But considering how many opportunities the Devils had with the man advantage, one half of Buffalo's special teams was still the name of the game today.

Killing off the early 5-on-3 was huge for the Sabres. As unusual as it was for New Jersey to not use the entire offensive zone to its advantage, that big of a kill put some wind in Buffalo's sails and was something to hang their hat on going into the first intermission. Say what you will about the bottom six at even strength. But 80% on the year is nothing to scoff at.

More opportunities for Cozens

Over the last week and a half, we've seen 2019 first round pick Dylan Cozens work his way up the Sabres' lineup. From the outset of training camp, the 19-year-old has looked like he belonged. And he still does. Learning from Eric Staal should continue to benefit him going forward.

But the absence of Sam Reinhart brought Cozens another opportunity to play among Buffalo's best: he took Reinhart's place on the first power play unit. That group was a bit of a rotating door with Jack Eichel's absence as well. But Cozens's presence was still felt around the net. He's no Reinhart. But that was one more big step that Cozens showed he could handle on Saturday.

Riding the hot hand

After an initial commitment to alternating goalies for back-to-back games, head coach Ralph Krueger has walked back on that, and with good reason. Linus Ullmark has been playing out of his mind for the last few games. He also kept the Devils scoreless in the shootout. He's stopped 90% of the shootout attempts he's faced this year.

Even though the shot total isn't as lopsided as it was on Thursday, Ullmark kept the Sabres in the game early on. Bad mistakes in the offensive end and the neutral zone led to golden opportunities for New Jersey. Whatever zone Ullmark has been in, let him stay there. He can rest on Monday when the Sabres have a day off.

Changes keep coming up front

It seems like the forward group gets mixed up nearly every game at 5-on-5. There's not going to be a single answer for the entire season. But Ralph Krueger sounded like he liked what he had seen because of the points Buffalo has picked up since last Friday.

The best thing about Saturday's mix-up is that Jeff Skinner is on a line that will give him some help offensively. Once Jack Eichel was back from a quick stitch-up, he was centering Skinner and Victor Olofsson. Skinner's been generating chances. If he gets more looks with this group, that should end his early drought.

No moral victories in OT

Every game is a division game. Every game directly affects the playoff race. The inability to finish off teams in regulation will wind up hurting the Sabres' chances in the long run. It's already an uphill battle when you look at the East Division on paper.

Four of the last five games have gone to either overtime or a shootout for the Sabres. Every game that goes to free hockey will make it even tougher for the Sabres to qualify for the playoffs.