It’s no surprise that the New Jersey Devils are one of the NHL’s stingiest clubs after coach Jacques Lemaire returned to their bench in the offseason.
What’s slightly more unexpected is that the Buffalo Sabres have been nearly as good at stopping the puck.
Two of the league’s top defensive teams square off Monday night in Buffalo, as the NHL’s best road team plays outside of New Jersey for the only time during a 10-game stretch.
Lemaire’s defensive style led the Devils to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 1995, and he returned this summer for his second stint with the team.
Twelve of the team’s last 17 opponents have scored two or fewer goals, with the Devils going 13-3-1 in that stretch. A healthy Martin Brodeur(notes) has also helped New Jersey (19-7-1) rank second in the NHL with a 2.22 team goals-against average.
Buffalo (16-8-2) is third in that category, with Ryan Miller(notes) leading the league individually with a 1.85 GAA and .936 save percentage. Miller has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last seven starts, going 4-2-1 in those games.
The Sabres had scored 18 goals during a four-game winning streak before their offense went quiet in a 2-1 home loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
“We had some really good offensive zone time, but it didn’t lead to any opportunities,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think the one area that we really fell down in was no net presence.”
It likely won’t be much easier to score against the Devils, who are 10-2-1 on the road - the league’s best winning percentage. They won their first nine road games, falling one short of the NHL record of consecutive road victories to start a season, still held by the 2006-07 Sabres.
Lately, New Jersey has been racking up victories at home, closing a recent homestand at 3-1-0 after a 4-3 shootout win over Detroit on Saturday night. The team will play five more at home after Monday’s game.
The road team has won the last five games between the Devils and Sabres, including Buffalo’s 4-1 win in Newark on Oct. 28. Miller stopped 31 shots to improve to 3-2-3 with a 1.88 GAA in eight starts against New Jersey since the beginning of the 2007-08 season.
Oduya returned to the Devils’ lineup Saturday for the first time since Oct. 29, scoring his first goal of the season in the first period. He had been dealing with a lower-body injury.
“It was nice,” Oduya said. “It’s something that doesn’t happen too often to me. I see it as a bonus. Now it’s just keep going and get better and work on some things.”
While New Jersey is two points behind Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division, the Sabres can leapfrog Boston for the top spot in the Northeast Division with a victory. Buffalo is hoping to continue its strong start as it chases its first playoff berth since 2007.
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