Sabres on roll heading into home matchup with Devils

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils appear to be heading in different directions coming out of the NHL All-Star break.

The Sabres (14-26-9) are starting a five-game home stretch with a renewed sense of optimism. After struggling nearly all season long, Buffalo picked up its first three-game win streak of the season in a Western Canada road trip last week (a 2-1 win over Calgary on Jan. 22, a 5-0 win over Edmonton on Jan. 23 and a 4-0 win over Vancouver on Jan. 25).

Buffalo is looking to carry that momentum into Tuesday’s home clash against the Devils.

“Now after doing it and doing it against some good hockey teams and consecutively, I think that we all realize that if we continue to do it that way and work and do the things that we need to do as a team to win games then we’ll be successful,” Sabres center Jack Eichel said, according to the team’s website. “It just needs to be there every night.”

Eichel and goalie Robin Lehner were named the NHL’s second and third stars for their performances last week. Eichel had four points in the win over Edmonton (one goal, three assists) and a goal against Calgary. Lehner picked up back-to-back shutouts for the first time in his career in the victories over Edmonton and Vancouver.

Lehner believes Buffalo’s renewed commitment to defending was the difference in Buffalo’s recent turnaround.

“We defended,” Lehner said, according to the team’s website. “We started playing defense and understood it started in the other end of the ice. The amount of work our forwards did over the last three games was incredible, just them coming back so hard and making it easy for our defense, making it easy for me. We were defending with three, four five guys. It makes a big difference.”

Eichel leads the Sabres in scoring with 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) in 49 games. Lehner has a save percentage of .912 in 37 games.

The Devils (24-16-8) have fallen on hard times as of late. New Jersey had a four-game losing streak heading into All-Star weekend, with two of those games being shutout losses (3-0 to Detroit on Jan. 22, 3-0 to Nashville on Jan. 25). New Jersey’s struggles go all the way back to just before the start of the new year, beginning with a 4-3 overtime loss to Buffalo; New Jersey has lost 10 of its last 12 games.

“We need to be more competitive and harder in front of both nets. Having said all that, we still need to stick together,” Devils forward Brian Boyle said, according to the team’s website. “We understand we have had success doing it the right way and I think we have a close-knit group in here where we can be honest with one another and still be supportive of one another.”

Boyle recently participated in his first All-Star Game, replacing teammate Taylor Hall.