When I get the inevitable question of "What should the New Jersey Devils try to play like in the future," my answer will be the Los Angeles Kings from this game. The Kings have been the league leaders in possession. Regardless of whether they'll make the playoffs, they put on a clinic in the first period and displayed in the third period how to be a consistent threat on the puck. Their passes were sharp, players moved off the puck as instructed, and if a pass got knocked away or went awry, there was a King in the area to make a play on it. Defensively, they stood up Devils, they held their position very well, and were unafraid to tie players up to deny them rebounds and loose pucks. The Kings didn't have to dump-and-chase constantly and even when they did, they were fast and strong enough to win pucks anyhow. They played the sort of hockey I want the Devils to play as they undergo the inevitable rebuild. They were dominant against the Devils tonight. The Devils deserved to lose 1-3.
Sure, the Kings aren't all perfect, but it's a million miles far and away better than what we've had to witness under the co-coaches. The Devils' forwards, as a group, are weaker than ever defensively. The Devils' defensemen, as a group, are just weak. Cory Schneider tried to stand on his head but could not be perfect. He didn't take the best of angles on Andrej Sekera's game-opening goal in the first period. He perhaps kicked that rebound out too hard to his right that led to Anze Kopitar slamming it back into the net in the third period. But on a night where Schneider was under siege for most of the game, I find it hard to get mad about his faults over the numerous faults of the eighteen guys in front of him. The effort, the coaching, the game plan, and the performance was simply poor from the Devils.
The nadir was in the first period. The Devils were out-shot 3-16. Their best offensive opportunity didn't even register as a shot on net. Patrik Elias got a gift of a loose puck in the Kings' end. He was all alone. He turned and fired a shot high at a corner of the net that wasn't even open. The Kings, on the other hand, did whatever they wanted. When there was some 4-on-4 time due to Eric Gelinas and Jordan Nolan beefing about something, the Kings looked like they were on a power play for the better part of the two minutes. Late in the period, the Kings got a power play. Stephen Gionta tripped up Anze Kopitar in the neutral zone - not that stopped the Kings from attacking and getting a shot on net. The Kings looked to attack, but the Devils got some clearances. Those killing good times ended when Dainius Zubrus held up Justin Williams away from the play. Perhaps Williams sold it, but it was a 3-on-5 that ended in seconds when Tyler Toffoli put in a layup courtesy of a killer pass from Marian Gaborik. The remainder of time ended the horrid period.
Those were the main events of the period. Comparisons will only do as far as how it looked. It was akin to toddlers against men. I don't think that's colorful enough so let me try some others. For the wrestling fans who also listen to the Attitude Era Podcast like my brother, the Kings were like Royal Rumble 2000 and the Devils were like the UK-only show, No Mercy in 1999. For the Bob Dylan fans like my dad, the Kings were Highway 61 Revisited and the Devils were Self Portrait. For the Red Bulls fans like myself, the Kings were Bradley Wright-Phillips in 2014 (and hopefully 2015!) and the Devils were Juan Pietravallo in 2009. It was a metaphorical massacre. With the Devils already down 0-2, what would lead from this?
Fortunately, the game got better for New Jersey. The Kings started making some more errors and sailing more of their shots wide than on target. The Devils defense tightened up and made some important interventions. The Devils forwards didn't have to constantly dump the puck in as they were able to move through the neutral zone with something resembling pace. The Devils' offense, well, that was still very much off the mark. They would get a goal to make it a one-shot game; Scott Gomez put home a rebound from a lofted Eric Gelinas shot. Alas, the Devils would only get five shots on net while conceding only five. A lot better from the first period, but witnessing it still felt like eating an onion and a lemon at the same time.
The game would open up in the third period and both teams found their respective targets: the goal. However, the Devils didn't exactly challenge Jonathan Quick as much as they needed to. They had some flashes late, early on in their only power play of the night, and bits and pieces here and there. But there needed to be more. The Kings defenders, from Drew Doughty to Sekera, were on top of nearly everything the Devils were tying to do. Quick was usually well positioned to make the stops he had to make. The Kings forwards were solid in moving the puck out for counter-attacks. Kopitar put home an extra goal to fade any hopes of a comeback. The Kings in general kept New Jersey quite honest, matching them shot for shot, 12-12. They'd cruise to an important road victory. They did a very good job with the lead in the third period. Not as dominant as they were in the first, but short of New Jersey packing it in, it was more than adequate.
What wasn't adequate were the Devils in general tonight. This was yet another example this season of an opponent just imposing their will for the most part and then maintaining a solid lead. It's almost over. There are only nine games left overall, with three at home. It's still difficult to watch at times. Clearly, massive improvements have to be made and it won't happen overnight with an 18-year old or a summer of free agency. If the Devils want to get it right in the future, then they need identify what they want to play like and get the coaches and players that would fit that vision. I think the Devils could do a lot worse than what Los Angeles has been doing, playoffs or no playoffs. At a minimum, they'd be massively more competitive against opponents like them.
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: Check out Jewels from the Crown for a Kings-based take on this game.
The Game Highlights: The NHL.com game highlight video is right here:
Returns: Let's go over the returns for the New Jersey Devils first. First off, Mike Cammalleri was back in the lineup since being out sick the past few games. I had to look on the scoresheet to see if he even played tonight. Cammalleri managed to play over seventeen minutes and not register one shooting attempt, much less one shot on goal. He did very little tonight, and that's not good enough for one of the few legitimately offensive talents on the Devils. I understand he's coming back from illness, but the Devils needed much more than nothing from him.
Reid Boucher, who was here for a couple of games this season, played mostly on a line with Scott Gomez and Steve Bernier. This line didn't do so well. They got plenty of Doughty and Jake Muzzin, which is a tough pairing to go against already. They also got plenty of Mike Richards, Trevor Lewis, and Kyle Clifford, who also gave them issues. Boucher would attempts some shots, getting two on Quick; though, they weren't particularly dangerous. When he wasn't going forward, he was near invisible which isn't good in a game where the opposition is forcing every one back more often than not.
Stefan Matteau played in his first NHL game since 2013. He was put on a fourth line with Jacob Josefson and Dainius Zubrus. They were given limited minutes, presumably with the instructions of "don't get wrecked." It was low-event hockey for the line. They got some pucks in deep, they didn't get caught too badly going the other way, and they were somewhat physical. Matteau stood up Dustin Brown in the first period as one of the few highlights for New Jersey in that one. That said, because the line didn't do much and didn't play for more than ten minutes, it's hard to gauge how Matteau did. I presume well because the line had a task to keep things from getting out of control for a few shifts as the others rest up and they did that job. But Matteau didn't make a real mark on the game in terms of setting up a good shot, taking a shot himself, or being particularly effective on defense.
As with all three, more time will help them out. We know Cammalleri will be better. Boucher and Matteau essentially have nine games to show they have a legitimate future.
As for the Kings, Mike Richards returned. He didn't throw any cheap shots or make any stupidly wonderful plays like he did in his hey day with Philadelphia. He did manage to get under the skin of some players (e.g. Damon Severson). The team was generally doing more good things than bad when he was on the ice. He could've done more than one shot on net. I don't think they'll spurn him or anything like that, but he could've made a better returning impression.
I noticed Alec Martinez returned to the blueline as well. It was his first game in almost a month. He was very solid with Matt Greene and, for some shifts, Doughty. It should be no surprised he looked very good with Doughty, but Martinez did quite well against the Gomez and Zajac lines.
This Matchup...Wasn't Bad?: The Kings decided to re-unite Justin Williams with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik tonight. The plan for New Jersey was to match Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, and Stephen Gionta against them. I liked the usage of Henrique in this regard as he's quicker than Zubrus and better on defense. As expected, Kopitar's line also got a lot of ice time with Andy Greene and Adam Larsson. The Elias line actually didn't get rolled over. At least, whatever they took, they gave back from an attempts standpoint. The one goal that beat them was from distance and perhaps Schneider should've done better on that one. It wasn't great, but it wasn't a massive failure either.
The Kopitar line - plus Doughty-Muzzin - did their most damage when they got other match-ups. Like when they got Mark Fraser and Eric Gelinas instead of Larsson and Greene. Or when they got the Travis Zajac line.
Speaking of Zajac and Larsson...: Anyone want to tell me why they both turned away from the corner prior to Kopitar's goal? Who would leave anyone, much less the other team's leading scorer, all alone like that? Even if it isn't a prime place to shoot, he certainly could've created something or kept the attack in motion were he to get the puck. Instead, he got a tasty rebound and both men had to turn around and see that. Sigh.
Questions: When a team gets creamed 3-16 in shots in a period and out-shot overall 17-27 at even strength, I start to think about whether the team as I know it may be mistaken. This brings up questions. Here's a few I had during tonight's game:
Is Adam Larsson really that much improved? What in the world will Jon Merrill become one day? Can someone not named Scott Stevens teach Eric Gelinas a thing, like skating or how to be aware of others on defense? Why am I watching Mark Fraser instead of Peter Harrold, who can at least skate faster than a glacial pace? How come Steve Bernier and Jordin Tootoo are allowed to stick to the sideboards and be higher up in the circle as they watch the others defense as opposed to Martin Havat and Michael Ryder? Would it be justifiable assault if Schneider flipped out on the next Devil skater who just left a King wide open in a dangerous spot? Is that even a thing? Why do the Devils keep to the perimeter so much? Can the Devils at least give Zajac better players to work with? Did Patrik Elias disappear after that awful miss in the first round? When will this game be mercifully over?
Those were all hypothetical questions. They should speak to what I was thinking about as the game went on.
Lastly: Which one of the co-coaches honestly felt the Devils could score two goals in about a hundred seconds so they decided to pull Schneider? At least they didn't concede the empty net goal, but anyone who witnessed the previous five minutes that a miracle wasn't happening for NJ. At this point, just leave the goalie in there.
Your Take: This game was another deserved loss in a season littered with them. Maybe the Kings will go on a run to make it into the postseason. Maybe they won't. It doesn't change that they were the superior squad tonight. Here are some non-hypothetical questions. What was your take on the game? Was this pretty much what you expected to happen? Who on the Devils looked good to you, if anyone? Who looked particularly bad in your view? How about those Kings, who wouldn't want to play like them? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.