BUFFALO (AP) – Vezina Trophy finalists Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller helped the New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres capture their respective division titles last season.
Right now, it’s hard to tell either team’s strength lies between the pipes.
Early struggles from two of the league’s most accomplished goaltenders have plagued both clubs, but perhaps a head-to-head meeting will spark a turnaround as Miller’s Sabres host Brodeur and the short-handed Devils on Wednesday night.
Brodeur led the NHL with 45 victories last season and Miller won the Vezina – after being named MVP of the Olympic tournament – but neither New Jersey (0-2-1) nor Buffalo (1-2-0) made it out of the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
Both teams’ struggles have extended into the start of this season. They’ve lost five of six combined games, with Miller (.880) and Brodeur (.859) not even ranking among the top 30 in save percentage.
In the Devils’ case, at least part of their issues can be traced to the lack of available bodies in front of Brodeur. With injuries and a suspension further depleting a team that’s up against the salary cap, New Jersey was down to 15 skaters Monday and remained winless with a 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh.
“We don’t use excuses,” first-year coach John MacLean said. “We had enough players. We just needed to compete better.”
Defenseman Anton Volchenkov (broken nose) and forward Brian Rolston (groin) will again sit out Wednesday, but New Jersey will have one extra body to its roster of skaters. The Devils signed former Sabres center Adam Mair on Tuesday after assigning Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond – who was suspended for Monday’s game – to the AHL.
Mair spent the last seven seasons in Buffalo, where he averaged 15 points.
“It will be nice to go back there and play those guys,” Mair told the Devils’ official website. “They’re a little desperate, we’re desperate for a win. It should be a good game.”
The Sabres dropped their home opener 6-3 to the Rangers on Saturday, but looked like they were in great position to bounce back Monday against the Stanley Cup champions. The Sabres raced to a 2-0 lead on Chicago less than three minutes in, but couldn’t even earn a point in a 4-3 loss.
Even more concerning was a potentially devastating injury to Jason Pominville. Buffalo’s third-leading scorer (24 goals, 38 assists) last season, Pominville had to be carted off on a stretcher after being hit into the boards from behind by Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in the first period.
Pominville suffered a concussion and is out indefinitely. He had played in 336 consecutive games – the fifth-longest streak in the league.
“You can’t lose good players to hits like this,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “In the past, I might have flipped out and started screaming and yelling. But I’m going to let the league deal with it.”
Pominville had a goal and an assist in four games last season against New Jersey, but the stars of a series the Devils won 2-1-1 were the goalies. Brodeur had a 1.47 goals-against average in four games, allowing two goals in the final three contests, while Miller posted a 1.62 GAA in three starts.
Brodeur is 3-0-2 with a 1.33 GAA in his last five games in Buffalo.
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