The New Jersey Devils are the surprise leaders of the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division with goaltender Cory Schneider leading the way as they wrap up a six-game homestand against the struggling Buffalo Sabres on Friday. New Jersey came out of the break with a 3-1 victory over Detroit on Wednesday for its season-high fifth straight win, with Schneider allowing 10 goals during that span and improving to 17-6-4.
“I felt like that’s kind of been the story all season, right? Cory’s got our back,” Devils defenseman Steven Santini told the Newark Star-Ledger. “You look at Stanley Cup teams the last few years, everyone’s got good goaltending. So obviously we try to play our best and teams will have pushes, and thankfully we have Cory ...” Buffalo coughed up the lead with 1:09 left in regulation Wednesday at the New York Islanders and lost 3-2 in overtime, falling to 1-3-2 in its last six games and 4-12-6 in its past 22 contests. The Sabres score the fewest goals in the NHL at 2.16 per game, and are the worst team in the Eastern Conference - ahead of only Arizona in the overall standings. New Jersey has won four straight and nine of the last 10 meetings, including 6-2 on Oct. 9 in the first encounter this season with Jesper Bratt and Marcus Johansson scoring two goals apiece.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, MSG Buffalo, MSG Plus (New Jersey)
ABOUT THE SABRES (9-20-8): Evander Kane leads the club with 15 goals and 34 points, and is on pace to record career highs in each category as his trade value continues to increase. Jack Eichel (13 goals, 33 points this season) has five goals and nine points in his last five contests while Kyle Okposo has three of his six goals in the past nine games after scoring Wednesday against his old team. Zemgus Girgensons (three goals) has scored in back-to-back contests after snapping a 25-game drought.
ABOUT THE DEVILS (22-9-5): Taylor Hall has a team-most 36 points and shares the club lead in goals (12) with Brian Gibbons after recording four goals and five assists in his last eight games. Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, recorded the second two-goal game of his career Wednesday, and has seven goals and 16 assists overall. Gibbons, who has one goal in his last 13 games, is a team-best plus-13 but only a plus-1 in 12 December contests.
1. New Jersey, which had the third-best penalty-killing unit entering Friday at 84.4 percent, hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in four games (12 chances) and has extinguished 23 of its last 24 penalties over the past eight contests.
2. Buffalo is 0-for-12 on the power play in its past six games and converts at an NHL-worst 11.8 percent (tied with Columbus) after leading the league at 24.5 last season.
3. Devils D Will Butcher’s 21 assists - 13 on the power play - are second-most among NHL rookies to New York Islanders C Mathew Barzal (23).
PREDICTION: Devils 3, Sabres 2