If not now, when? It's time for the Devils to breakout and the woebegone Buffalo Sabres present a tempting target to take down Wednesday night.
Both teams sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, with the loser entitled to the cellar. Not exactly the kind of start fans in Buffalo and New Jersey expected from the squads that finished second (N.J.) and third (Buffalo) in the conference last season. Here are three keys to watch when these teams battle for the basement/redemption.
Battle of the Backups
Both Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller will sit out the contest, meaning Johan Hedberg will start again for New Jersey and Jhonas Enroth gets the nod for Buffalo. Hedberg hasn't been sensational in limited action with a GAA over 5, but the Sabres have struggled to put the puck in the net this season, averaging just 2.4 a game. Of course, that number dwarfs the Devils' 1.67 figure, but still it's a little bit of a break for a beleaguered Jersey team.
Countering that good karma is the fact that Hedberg allowed four goals to the Sabres before getting yanked in the second period during his first start of the season.
Enroth earned his first NHL win Saturday when the Sabres topped the skidding Maple Leafs in OT.
Welcome to the Show
As Tom Gulitti points out, top prospect Mattias Tedenby will become the eighth Devil to make his NHL debut this season. Hockey's Future lists Tedenby as the best of the bunch, and will provide some speed on a line with Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott Wednesday. In fact, his HF profile labels Tedenby the most exciting Devils prospect since Zach Parise. Maybe he'll be able to help ease the loss of the fallen leading scorer.
Shoring the Blue Line
With Colin White and Anton Volchenkov in the lineup, Wednesday will mark the first time since Oct. 13 New Jersey hasn't dressed three rookie defensemen. The Devils have allowed 3.20 goals per game this season, a big factor in their wretched early play, but the D has been extremely green to this point. The position is challenging for any rookie to learn, and to try and pick up the nuances under the pressure of a poor start and when the forwards can't keep the puck deep in the opposing zone, well, it's even harder. Expect things to tighten up with the added experience.