Reality bit the New Jersey Devils hard tonight in their 1-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings tonight. While the Kings played last night and lost their last four games, they looked nothing like a struggling team finding themselves on the outside looking into a playoff picture. No, they looked like a team that was one of the best possession teams in hockey. They looked like a team with a sound structure and players supporting one another in various capacities. They looked like a team in control of the situation. The Devils lost this game 1-3 but it could have been far, far worse.
The damage was done on the scoreboard early on. How early? Here’s a quick summary of the first two minutes of the game.
There was an opening faceoff. Adam Henrique goes down quickly and is helped to the bench. With Vernon Fiddler filling in #14’s spot, the Devils have a good offensive shift for about thirty seconds with two shots on net. It ends with Jordan Nolan taking the puck up ice and Kyle Quincey hauling him down before he could get a shot away. Quincey sits for a holding penalty. The Kings win the faceoff, Anze Kopitar has the puck at the left sideboards, he skates inside the circle, and fires a shot past a screening Tanner Pearson and Cory Schneider. It’s 0-1. Less than a minute later, there’s a board battle behind the Devils net. Devin Setoguchi dug out the puck and up the left boards to Jeff Carter. Adam Henrique, who’s back, and Miles Wood try to engage him. Carter briefly loses the puck but spins to finds it is loose and just knocks it towards the middle. Steve Santini and Pearson are bodying each other up in the slot. Santini takes a swing at the bouncing puck and misses. Pearson turns and is able to hit the puck on edge while falling down - and past Schneider. It’s 0-2. Then it’s 2:00 into the game.
So two minutes into the game and the Devils were in deep. An optimist may point out that the Devils had fifty-eight minutes to get back into the game. And then the Devils demonstrated why optimism and this year’s squad really don’t go well together. The Devils struggled to make the right plays against a defensively sound Kings team. Their breakouts were quite broken. There could have been some help from special teams. Their first power play was an utter waste as the Kings’ PK showed how well they could pass the puck more than the Devils. It also featured Peter Budaj hitting Miles Wood in the head with his stick after Wood was bumped into Budaj for no call; that only added to the dismal feeling one gets watching the Devils work with an extra skater. I will say that the second and third situations were far better as they combined for a 1:44-long 5-on-3. The Devils actually attacked for most of that time. Unfortunately, they missed the net more often than not. Henrique came the closest to scoring. He hit a crossbar and later set up P.A. Parenteau for an empty net chance on Peter Budaj’s flank - only for the pass to hop over Parenteau’s stick. Taylor Hall was stuck in the slot and only had one rebound chance that also narrowly missed. Michael Cammalleri, who was rather frustrating tonight, bombed away from distance to no avail. It was a lost opportunity and sadly some of their best offensive hockey of the night. The rest of the period after that situation was just turgid until Jon Merrill was given an interference penalty. Just after that penalty ended, Marian Gaborik got the puck at the crease for an open shot. Schneider stopped it. But Steve Santini and Pavel Zacha did nothing to either clear the rebound or stop Alec Martinez for poking it into the net. It’s 0-3 and it’s just grim. What does one even do to get back into it?
The Devils started with a goaltender change. Keith Kinkaid entered the game at the second period and he was quite good. I don’t think the first or third goals were Schneider’s fault, but I understand the decision to change the goalie change after three goals out of thirteen shots. Unfortunately, the team seemingly left the rest of their adjustments and other changes in the locker room. The Devils did not forget to attack, but the Kings somehow managed to go a long period without a shooting attempt in the second while yet still threatening the team in the run of play. The Kings just repeatedly kept the Devils back by picking up their turnovers, keeping their coverage on players, and meeting the Devils at the blueline as if its a wall of sorts. There was some controversy when a jam play on Budaj resulted in the puck laying behind him and Jordan Nolan knocked the net away before Parenteau put it home. As the puck didn’t cross the line before the net moved, a penalty was awarded instead of a goal. You guessed it: the Devils did nothing with that power play. So much for adjustments, change, and so forth.
Eventually, the Kings would get some offense going, thanks in part to the Devils carelessly turning pucks over. A miscommunication between Travis Zajac and Taylor Hall led to Jeff Carter swooping in for a shot that Kinkaid snagged. It was almost poetic to see a dump-in by Trevor Lewis to keep the puck in the zone hit off Vernon Fiddler only for a King to pick up the loose puck and fire a strong shot from the slot. Late in the second, somehow a puck just freely bounced off the boards and right to a wide open Marian Gaborik on Kinkaid’s doorstep. Kinkaid denied him. Basically, Kinkaid saved the Devils from looking even worse on the scoreboard as the Kings just kept winning and, at times, being given the puck to do things with. Kinkaid almost got fooled late when a long shot went off the backboards and off his skate at the right post. Cammalleri poked the prone puck off the line to keep it 0-3 near the end of the second period.
The third question brought the age-old question for many Devils fans, “Will they even score one goal?” The answer was yes. In one of his few good passes of the night, Cammalleri found Kyle Quincey at the center point. The defensemen fired a low wrist shot that may have hit off Pearson’s leg before trickling past Budaj. The Devils would indeed have their goal. Shortly thereafter, Budaj denied Jacob Josefson on a rebound attempt as Budaj followed the rebound beautifully. Not long after that, Taylor Hall wrapped around the net and Kyle Palmieri got onto the puck for what would usually be a score. But Budaj dove back and paddled the puck away. It was an impressive save. And then the offense just stopped. The Kings started to apply a little more pressure in the neutral zone and it worked beautifully. The Devils played into their trap almost perfectly, which meant the Devils could not get much going to try to get back into the game. The Kings kept the Devils honest with ten shots and one post that saved a fourth goal. Even when Kinkaid was pulled with two minutes to go, six Devils skaters failed to get the puck in deep against five Kings. The end fizzled out what was a very flat game by the Devils.
I couldn’t help but think amid the many turnovers in the second period and the constant losing of the puck off breakouts and zone entries in the third period that the Kings still represent an ideal - something the Devils may want to emulate as they rebuild the team. Yes, they’re not a perfect team in this season. But they are a squad that has an identity and everyone plays their role in it well. Their stars - Kopitar, Carter, Doughty - all did well. They received contributions from Pearson, Martinez, Gaborik, and even Nick Shore. Their fourth liners ate up New Jersey’s fourth line. The Kings didn’t wow anyone with only 25 shots out of 35 attempts. But with three first period goals, they could afford to be comfortable with that kind of lead because of how well they play off the puck, on defense, and turning turnovers into opportunities. Budaj played well too, which only emboldened a Kings team to just make the game hard for the Devils. It often looked like men against boys at points in tonight’s game. That speaks to how the Kings play their game and how the Devils struggle against teams who can do that. While this wasn’t a big rout on the scoreboard, the performance was apparent to anyone who saw it: the Kings crushed the Devils tonight.
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 Shift Charts | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Eric K has this short rank-the-player post at Jewels from the Crown.
The Frustration of Cammalleri: Cammalleri did make some positive contributions tonight. He was the primary assister on Quincey’s goal. He prevented a fourth goal late in the second period. He did have four shots on net. He also managed to continue his tendency to look for plays that aren’t necessarily there. Or outright change them because of what he’s doing. Such as breakouts where he’s restarting them twice despite a lack of pressure. Or passes through the neutral zone to players who aren’t open and aren’t able to receive the pass. Or getting a lateral pass at the blueline for an open, free lane to the net - and deciding to pass the puck to his right, into traffic, and a bit behind him to turn what could’ve been a scoring chance into nothing. Cammalleri is akin to a cardboard puzzle piece that has endured some water damage. Yes, it looks like he can fit in, but not consistently - and when he doesn’t, he sticks out like a sore thumb.
The Crumbling of a Pairing: I know they’re new to the NHL level, but the Karl Stollery and Steven Santini pairing was bad tonight. Stollery was just a body on the power play and he had issues when the Kings were able to establish themselves in New Jersey’s end. Santini was notably worse. While it wasn’t an easy situation, that second goal is as much of his fault as anyone’s for missing the puck and losing the physical battle with Pearson. It’s arguable the third goal against was worse because he was focused on the puck, he didn’t see or know if anyone was coming in, and despite those two factors, he didn’t locate the puck in time to clear it from safety. Both defensemen have had some good games in their time with New Jersey. Tonight wasn’t one of them.
What About the Wood?: Miles Wood did have five shots on net, including a point-blank chance early on. Wood ended up leading the Devils with five shots on net, so there’s that tonight. I did notice he was moved up to play with Hall and Zajac late in the third period. I also notice he did not take any penalties (good) and I’m shocked Wes McCauley let go Budaj hitting him with his stick. If you’re stretching for positives outside of “not getting shut out,” then I suppose you can point to Wood not having a terrible game after an impactful one on Saturday.
What About the Zacha?: I think he was just OK. Zacha played better as the game went on. Early on, he was just a body. He was able to track Martinez but not prevent him from scoring his goal; I thought that was a negative. As the game went on, he was notably quicker and stronger on the puck. He would only have one shot on net, so it’s imperative he uses his skills for more productive actions. The skills are there; in a few seasons, I think he’ll be a much more dangerous player.
How to Ensure a Fourth Line Fails in its Matchup: Just add Luke Gazdic, apparently. Not that Sergey Kalinin or Vernon Fiddler should be very proud of themselves tonight. But Gazdic is an albatross.
One Last Thought - Streaks: Taylor Hall did not make much of an impact tonight and, as such, his six-game point streak ended. The Kings’ win ends a four-game losing streak for them. Speaking of losing streaks, the Devils are now winless in their last five home games. The latter is rather frightening to think about. Soon, the Devils will be playing most of February at the Rock. I fear there will be many more ‘L’s than what was hoped for back in, say, October or November when the Devils didn’t lose a game in regulation at the Rock this season.
Your Take: My take on this game is that the Devils were decisively beaten by a better coached, more talented, well-structured Los Angeles team. What was your take on tonight’s performance by the Devils? Who were the best and worst Devils on the ice? Who or what about the Kings impressed you the most? What can the Devils learn from this game to prepare for their next game against Washington? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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