BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Having endured growing pains with the NHL’s youngest lineup a year ago, the New Jersey Devils developed into the league’s hottest team early in their third season under coach Lindy Ruff.
Prior to a 3-1 victory at KeyBank Center on Friday night, in which the Devils regrouped from a loss that snapped their franchise record-tying streak of 13 wins, the former Sabres coach noted the similarities between his team and what is now the youngest lineup in the NHL.
“You look at the Sabres team, you look at a group that is a lot like us,” said Ruff, who is on the cusp of becoming the fifth NHL coach with 800 career victories, 571 of those coming when he coached Buffalo from 1997 until 2011.
“A young group that all of the sudden, they are going to find the right groove,” Ruff said. “It could be weeks away. Could be a month. Could be tomorrow.”
Ruff wondered if Buffalo’s surge had begun already when they scored 13 goals in beating Montreal and St. Louis on back-to-back nights earlier this week.
The Sabres slipped from that stepping stone Friday night, partly because of the disciplined defense displayed by the Devils, a trademark of Ruff’s best teams.
Ruff still sees signs that the Sabres could be tougher to beat by the time the Devils return to Buffalo on March 24.
“They’ve got a lot of speed and they’ve got a lot of creativity,” Ruff said. “And they’ve got some size. Their youth and our youth are kind of in the same place.”
The Devils lead the Metropolitan Division at 17-4-0 with a plus-30 goal differential that ranks second in the NHL. Last season, New Jersey finished seventh in its division, with 12 fewer standings points than the Sabres and a scoring margin in the bottom tier of the league.
Ruff drew comparisons between his team’s rapid improvement and the 2005-06 Sabres team reached the Eastern Conference Finals after being one of the NHL’s worst teams going into the lockout that canceled the previous season.
“We weren’t the biggest team,” Ruff said. “But we had a third line that was (Derek) Roy, (Maxim) Afinogenov, and (Thomas) Vanek. So good speed.”
New Jersey’s top centers, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, are the backbone of the lineup, in the same way Chris Drury and Daniel Briere were for Buffalo.
“Maybe a little different than what we had,” Ruff said. “But all of the sudden down the middle of the ice, you’ve got some guys that can control the game.”