One of the main reasons I love hockey, or sports in general, is that anything can happen in a single game. A struggling Devils team went on the road to face quality Kings team and managed to not only earn a victory, but to do so in spectacular fashion with 5 goals.
The game really kicked off in the first period when Mark Fraser took on Jordan Nolan after Nolan drilled Joe Whitney with a nice hit. Shortly after that the Kings went on the attack with Justin Williams picking off a Jon Merrill pass to set up Dustin Brown with a nice chance from the right circle. While the Kings had the better of the play early on the Devils did get an unlikely chance when Whitney was able to set up Jordin Tootoo on a 2v3. The real story of the period would be the Devils penalty kill as they had to not only kill off three penalties, but do so without Andy Greene for two of them. This was due to the veteran defenseman taking back to back penalties, one out of carelessness when he tripped Brown, the other out of necessity to prevent Marian Gaborik from going in alone against Cory Schneider after a Peter Harrold shot in the offensive zone was blocked and the Kings quickly sprung their attack. This led to quality minutes for Adam Larsson and Jon Merrill before Merrill would end up in the box for hooking Jeff Carter when he was unable to defend him. The Devils would kill those penalties off and it was Merrill who drew a call on Jarret Stoll shortly after exiting the box. The Devils would seize some momentum when Scott Gomez made a nice cross ice pass on the PP to Mike Cammalleri who then proceeded to backhand the puck towards the crease where Steve Bernier was there waiting to jam the puck home with 12 seconds left in the first period. At the end of the first period the Devils had held the Kings to just 5 shots on goal.
The Kings would quickly equalize just over a minute into the second period when Drew Doughty gained the offensive zone, essentially went through Merrill, and then made a great pass to Brown just in front of the net. The big story of the night would happen a few minutes later as the Devils were able to kill off a Tim Sestito boarding penalty on Alec Martinez and then go on the PP as Andy Andreoff interfered with Harrold. Steve Bernier would pot his second PPG of the evening once again by camping out in front of the crease and receiving a Scott Gomez pass and banking the puck into the net off Doughty. Martin Havlat would give the Devils a two goal lead just a few seconds later when he was found alone in the slot by Patrik Elias who had just won a puck battle towards the boards. The Kings reacted to the two quick goals by replacing Martin Jones with Jonathan Quick. The Devils were able to keep momentum and finish off three goals in 1:08 by creating a scramble by the Kings net due to hard work by Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus with Cammalleri finishing off a loose puck for the three goal lead. The Devils then went on the PP a few minutes later as Gaborik tripped Cammalleri but were unable to generate much of anything. Shortly after that PP and towards the end of the period, Ryder would jump on a rebound from an Andy Greene shot to give the Devils a 5-1 lead. At the end of the second the Devils would hold the edge in shots and possession by a slight amount. That would eventually change in the third period due to score effects.
Martin Jones went back into the Kings goal to start the final period. Most of the period would be the Devils naturally sitting back a bit to defend a four goal lead and the Kings ended up with more shots in the third period (14) than they had in the first two periods combined (12). Los Angeles got a second goal after they had the Devils pinned back in their zone and Gaborik was able to backhand a Brayden McNabb rebound past Schneider. With 57 seconds left in the period the Kings got their third goal when Merrill made a poor clearance that was intercepted by Mike Richards who then shot it towards the net where Justin Williams was able to deflect it past Schneider. In the end the Devils walked away with two well deserved points to start their California road trip.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Log | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts | The War on Ice Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Eric K. has this recap of the game over at Jewels From The Crown in which he covers the defensive breakdowns by the Kings.
The Game Highlights:
3 Goals in 1:08: The turning point of the game happened midway through the second period when the Devils scored three times in just over a minute. First, Steve Bernier added his second goal of the game on the PP after taking a Scott Gomez feed at the front of the net and backhanded the puck into the net off Drew Doughty. The second goal happened just 23 seconds later when Patrik Elias won a loose puck along the boards and found Martin Havlat who was left free in the slot and proceeded to go top shelf on Martin Jones. That would temporarily chase Jones out of the game as he made way for Jonathan Quick. The third goal was the result of another tremendous effort by the Devils to create havoc around the net as both Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus got shots towards the net and Cammalleri was able to knock in a loose puck to give the Devils a three goal lead. This sequence was definitely one of the bright moments of the season so far for the Devils.
Special Teams Thrive: It was a great night for the PP and PK. The Devils PP went 2/4, first converting on a Steve Bernier goal with 12 seconds left in the first period and then on another Bernier goal in the second period that kicked off the aforementioned goal outburst. The Devils PK was a perfect 4/4 which included killing off three penalties in the first period that could have sank the Devils. The Devils young defense was tested with Andy Greene in the box for two of those three penalties. The Devils did well to prevent the Kings from getting many shots on goal and quality chances on those kills.
A Great Night for Larsson: I thought Adam Larsson had a great night. He had the second most ice time among defenders (21:54) and led the team in ice time on the PK (4:33). He picked up his fourth assist in his last five games and continues to play well over 20 minutes a night. He managed a 51.61 CF% and 57.14 FF% while going against the Kings top line of Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar, and Jeff Carter and top pairing of Brayden McNabb and Drew Doughty. Minus his gaffe against the Islanders, he is showing a lot of promise of becoming the player many envisioned when he was drafted.
A Rough Night for Merrill: It wasn't a great night for Jon Merrill. To his credit he did have an assist, led the team in ice time (22:36), and was a big part of the PK (2:23) in the first period when Greene was in the box. He seemed to have another Jekyll and Hyde game where he makes some solid plays then does something highly questionable. Whether it was losing position to Jeff Carter and having to hook him to prevent a scoring chance, being out of position and unable to defend Drew Doughty on the Kings first goal, or playing the puck right to Mike Richards on a failed clearance that led to the Kings third goal. He also didn't fare well in possession with a 29.17 CF% and 27.78 FF%. He mainly played against the Kings second line of Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll, and Justin Williams which is tough competition to be fair.
Battling in Front of the Net: I feel like the Devils did well in the offensive zone when it came to fighting for position around the net and creating chaos for the Kings defense. Steve Bernier scored his goals after positioning himself well in front of the net during the PP. Mike Cammalleri and Michael Ryder also added in goals that were results of fighting for loose pucks and rebounds in front of the net during the second period outbreak. It was nice to see the team get rewarded for playing hard.
Injury Scare for Zidlicky: Marek Zidlicky left the game in the first period after taking an Alec Martinez shot to his right hand. He would return to play regular shifts in the second and third periods and finished the night with 18:51 in ice time. Tom Gulitti reported on twitter that Zidlicky needed six stitches in his right thumb and that X-rays came back negative. It doesn't appear that this is anything to worry about but we'll see how he feels during the rest of the road trip.
Fighting Fraser: Since being called up on January 3, Mark Fraser has participated in four fights in five games. Tonight he took on Jordan Nolan after Nolan got a solid, clean hit in on Joe Whitney. Personally I am a fan of guys standing up for their teammates by using their fists but I recognize that attitude is becoming less popular among fans.
Your Take: How much did you enjoy the second period offensive surge by the Devils? Can you believe it? What are your opinions on Adam Larsson and Jon Merrill? Do you agree that the Devils played well in front of the Kings net to set up goals? What other thoughts do you have on this performance? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!