Back on Tuesday, we celebrated a goaltender that produced 124 shutouts for the New Jersey Devils. Today, we got to witness another Devils goalie get his first career NHL shutout. Keith Kinkaid was exactly what New Jersey needed today. The Los Angeles Kings threw 28 shots on net over three periods, with 12 of those coming in a nerve wracking third period. He even got a little luck with some post action, but when the final horn sounded, not one puck got into the net. He posted a solid performance on an afternoon when the Devils once again could not score a goal at 5 on 5 play.
The Devils offense looked like a case of Jekyll and Hyde. When the game was at even strength, the team really got nothing going at all. They had 14 even strength shots on net all day, and none were really generated because the ice was tilted in their favor. At best, the Devils were able to keep the game low event, especially for the first two periods, but for their offense, it meant nothing was going on.
On the other hand, when NJ was on the power play, the offense looked dynamite. The only goal of the game came 4 seconds into their first power play, as Travis Zajac won a faceoff clean back to David Schlemko who wristed one through traffic that managed to find twine. Joseph Blandisi may have deflected it, but either way it was a quick goal in the first and one that was hugely important. The Devils were 19-0-4 entering this afternoon when scoring first, and playing with the lead is exactly where the team needs to be.
The other two power plays did not yield goals, but it was not for a lack of effort. Both of those power plays saw the Devils with significant time in the offensive zone where they set up and really moved the puck well to generate opportunities. I was completely shocked with how easy the Devils were able to enter the zone and set up. Usually that is this team's biggest flaw when up a man, but today it seemed like a non-issue. Then once set up, the offense executed crisp, clean passes that led to some open looks. The only time the Devils really looked dominant on offense was with the advantage, but when they had it, they really used their time well.
Overall, the game was a very chippy and physical one, with a lot of contact happening both on the puck and away from it, but the officials generally let the teams just play it out. Once the Devils scored their goal, it was the exact type of game that they needed to play. Take Los Angeles off of their game, play gritty, and prevent as many opportunities as possible. For the first two periods plus, that was exactly how it happened. Then once the time started to really tick down in the third, the Devils entered their prevent defense, and LA was able to set up quite frequently in the offensive zone, even before Jhonas Enroth was pulled.The Kings got some nice looks in that final 8+ minute stretch as well, with some pucks that just squeaked past the net and one that bounced off the post and right through the crease before Schlemko was able to get it out of harms way.But despite the late effort by LA, Kinkaid remained resolute, and it would be a huge 2 points for New Jersey. Getting all 4 points this weekend = the exact Valentine's Day gift I was looking for. Thanks Devils!
The Opposition Opinion: Jewels From The Crown will have a full recap up soon I'm sure, but a quick reaction can be found here from Eric K, who summed it up fairly effectively: the Devils scored early, then held off the Kings for 54 minutes. Sounds about right. He calls NJ "defensive stalwarts." That's about the best compliment you can give this team, and I like it.
The Game Highlights: As of writing this, there isn't a full highlight video up on NHL.com yet, plus I still can't find where they place the embed code on the newly designed NHL website to embed such a video here. Annoying. Anyway, the link to the recap on NHL.com is here, and the highlight video is usually posted on that page. Check it out.
The Difference Between Playing Low Event and Playing Prevent: Look at the Corsi chart from Natural Stat Trick, and see the difference in events when the Devils were simply playing low event, defensive hockey for the first 2 plus periods, and then look how the event line dips drastically once they enter a prevent-style of play:
The difference is quite noticeable. After 2 periods, the teams were almost dead even in Corsi events. Through 2 periods, the Devils had 27 events for, and 29 events against. That is low event, defensive hockey, and exactly how the Devils need to play when leading. It gives them the best chance to win on a nightly basis.
Then, look at the third period, especially the second half of the third period. The Devils enter a more preventative style of play, not looking for offense. Instead, they just want to clog the lanes and prevent LA from getting good scoring chances. Well, the Kings took advantage and really made Kinkaid work. The Kings had 23 Corsi events in the 3rd period alone, while the Devils had merely 7. That is one of those trends where you have to seriously be thankful that LA did not tie it up there, because it would have been extremely difficult for the Devils to recover and actually start playing offensive hockey again.
Kinkaid was The Man: Today's game belongs to the #1 star of the game, Keith Kinkaid, and rightly so. His last two starts have been dynamite for the Devils, and he deserved his first shutout. He did let up a couple scary rebounds, and he was saved by the post at the end for sure, but every goalie needs a little luck on their side. There is nothing wrong with that, and nothing to be ashamed of. He also made some excellent saves, read the puck really well, and had quality positioning all game. It was a textbook game for the backup, and one that should make Devils fans feel at ease whenever he needs to play a game. Schneider is the main man and MVP of this team, but for a spot start here and there, I am very happy with Kinkaid as the #2.
A Quality Replacement:The star line for the Devils all year has been the trio of Adam Henrique, Michael Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak. Without Cammalleri in the lineup however, John Hynes and Co. have had Blandisi playing with the other two, and I really have liked what I have seen with him up there. Joe played 14:39 tonight, most of that on the top line with Henrique and Stempniak, and he did not look out of place. He looks quick on the ice, he is always around the puck and around the action, and he makes himself noticeable. Some players come to the NHL right away, and perhaps because of nerves or whatever else, they become somewhat invisible out on the ice. Not Blandisi. He's out there making plays and using his speed to great effect, and it is something the Devils should be very happy about. He may not have scored tonight (he may have if he tipped in Schlemko's shot), but he was still productive. NJ may lack forward depth in the minors, but Blandisi has been a home run so far for this team, and that is something that is hugely needed. Hynes may need to find a way to keep giving him top 6 minutes even after Cammalleri returns.
Is This Sustainable? 4 games in a row now the Devils have not scored during 5 on 5 play. Yet they have scored their last 5 goals on the power play, and have won the last three games. Having a top power play in the NHL is a huge boon, and it will be of huge importance for the Devils' push to the postseason, but not being able to generate offense at even strength is going to come back and haunt this team sooner than later. Thankfully it has not mattered in these last three games, but if they continue to be snake bitten at evens, they will begin to lose some games. And given that the next five games are against Metropolitan opponents, and 3 of those games are against other teams in the log jam, something needs to give. Goals need to come at even strength, and need to come asap.
Standings Watch: With the Devils taking all 4 points this weekend, they actually have surpassed the Isles for the moment for the 3rd position in the Metro. Of course the Isles have 3 games in hand, as does Pittsburgh which is only 2 points behind NJ. Both teams play tomorrow while the Devils are off. If you watch any hockey tomorrow, make sure to root hard for both Detroit and Florida. Pitt and the Isles need to lose their games in hand on NJ, or else the Devils will have a real uphill climb ahead of them.
Then, as I mentioned above, the Devils play their next 5 games in division. The three that really matter are the ones against both NY teams and Philly. Those are all 4 point games. Winning all three of those would put this team in a strong position for a playoff push come March. Lose all 3 and the deficit may become too much to overcome. So...no pressure or anything.
Your Thoughts: What are your thoughts on the win today? How did you think Kinkaid played? How about the rest of the team? What can the Devils do to produce more offense at even strength? How do you feel about this team as it enters perhaps its most important stretch of games this season? Please leave your comments below, thanks for reading, and have a wonderful Valentine's Day.