The visiting Devils look to avoid a fourth straight defeat and keep the Sabres, who will be without leading scorer Thomas Vanek from a season-high third consecutive victory Saturday.
New Jersey (10-6-4) averaged 2.9 goals during its 9-2-3 start, but has totaled nine while going 1-4-1 since. The Devils, who allowed a goal 8 seconds into Thursday’s 3-1 loss at Winnipeg, have been held to one goal four times in their last six games while going 2 for 22 on the power play.
“It’s frustrating,” said forward David Clarkson who has a team-leading 10 goals but none in the last six contests. “We’ve got to find a way to get out of this and start playing in the other team’s zone a little more.”
It has not helped that the Devils have allowed opponents to go 8 of 20 on the power play during the rough stretch.
New Jersey’s three-game slide in regulation has coincided with future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur’s absence due to a sore back. Brodeur, who had a 1.84 goals-against average in a 5-1-1 stretch before the injury, isn’t eligible to come off injured reserve until Monday.
Johan Hedberg expected to make his fourth consecutive start, has a 4.06 GAA while losing four straight outings. He’s allowed eight goals while dropping his last two starts against the Sabres, but has not faced them since November 2010.
After playing their last four against Washington and Winnipeg, the Devils may be excited to face a different opponent while trying to avoid their second four-game skid of the season. New Jersey went 3-0-1 against the Sabres in 2011-12, scoring nine times to win its two trips to Buffalo.
The Sabres (8-12-1) have won two in a row behind six goals after totaling one while losing their first two games under interim coach Ron Rolston. Nathan Gerbe scored his first two goals of the season and Ryan Miller made 40 saves in Buffalo’s 4-3 shootout win at Florida on Thursday.
“We’ll take it. It’s a step in the direction we need to keep going in,” said Rolston, who was coaching Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester when he was tabbed to replace the fired Lindy Ruff last week.
“We still have a big ceiling in terms of room for improvement for our team. Our mindset has to be to get back and be better again come Saturday.”
Buffalo, however, will be without Vanek because of a nagging upper body injury. Rolston described the injury as short-term and hopes Vanek, who ranks third in the NHL with 27 points (12 goals and 15 assists), will return for Sunday’s game at the New York Rangers.
The Sabres went 0 for 13 on the power play in the previous four games but converted their only chance Thursday. Buffalo also has killed 9 of 10 penalties in its last two contests after its previous five opponents went 5 for 16 with the man advantage.
“Ron has made some adjustments, made some changes,” forward Jason Pominville told the NHL’s official website. “He said from the get-go it might take some time, but we’re slowly starting to get results.”
The Sabres are looking to get Rolston his first victory at home, where they’ll try to avoid their first four-game skid since Feb. 13-20, 2011.