The Devils came into this season as one of the favorites in the East, but are 0-2-1 under rookie head coach John McLean. New Jersey is off to its worst start to a season since 2001-02, when the Devils began the campaign with an 0-3-1 record.
New Jersey was dealt a 3-1 setback by Atlantic Division rival Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon, as Brent Johnson stopped 30 shots to lead the Penguins to the road victory at Prudential Center. Paul Martin, who played with the Devils for the previous six seasons prior to signing with Pittsburgh in the offseason, had a goal and an assist for the Penguins.
Patrik Elias scored the lone goal while Martin Brodeur gave up two goals on 30 shots for the Devils. Brodeur, the NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts, has a dreadful 4.11 goals-against average and .859 save percentage so far this year, but is expected to get his fourth straight start tonight.
"We're in the business of winning, so when you don't, you know you didn't do your job properly," Brodeur said after Monday's loss. "We're definitely looking at the next game as a must-win."
New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed a 15-year, $100 million deal with the Devils this offseason, has yet to score a goal this year. The Russian sniper posted two assists in Jersey's season-opening OT loss to Dallas, but has gone pointless since. Kovalchuk played in 27 games with the Devils last year after coming over in a trade with Atlanta and had 10 goals and 17 assists over that span.
Kovalchuk's hefty contract was also at least partially responsible for the Devils only being able to dress 15 skaters, and just nine forwards, for Monday's game. Anton Volchenkov (broken nose) and Brian Rolston (lower body) were out with injuries and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond was forced to sit out due to a one-game suspension, but because of salary-cap issues the Devils were unable to replace those missing players on the ice.
The Devils expect to have 16 skaters tonight as Letourneau-Leblond was assigned to the club's AHL affiliate in Albany and veteran forward Adam Mair, who was signed following Monday's loss, will be on the ice this evening. Mair is a former Sabre, as is Devils defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who played his entire career in Buffalo before signing with New Jersey this offseason.
New Jersey is on the road for just one game and will return to the Garden State for home tests on Friday and Saturday against Colorado and Boston, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Sabres will try to end a two-game slide tonight in the third contest of a four-game homestand. Buffalo won its season opener on the road in Ottawa, but has since dropped tests to the New York Rangers and Chicago at HSBC Arena.
The Sabres scored the first two goals in Monday's test against the Blackhawks, but the defending Stanley Cup champions rallied for a 4-3 win. Marian Hossa scored a pair of goals to lead Chicago to victory.
Drew Stafford and Tim Connolly each registered a goal and an assist for Buffalo. Ryan Miller -- last year's Vezina Trophy winner -- made 26 saves in defeat and has allowed nine goals on 57 shots in his last two outings.
Buffalo also lost forward Jason Pominville to a scary injury in Monday's loss as he was carried off the ice on a stretcher following a hit to the head by Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Pominville was hit hard along the boards by Hjalmarsson, who was given a five- minute penalty and a game misconduct for the hit. Pominville suffered a concussion and cut on the play and will miss tonight's game, ending his streak of 336 consecutive games played. It is still unclear how much time Pominville is expected to miss in total.
The Devils and Sabres split four games last season, but New Jersey has taken four of six and seven of the last 12 meetings overall. The Devils have also come out on top in four of six and six of their last nine trips to western New York.