For most of the game, the many people at the Rock were booing Ilya Kovalchuk out of the building. By the game’s end, the few people that stuck around were booing a New Jersey Devils team that fully earned the noise. The New Jersey Devils took a 1-1 score into the third period and that period ended with the Devils losing 1-5 to the Los Angeles Kings. Not the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not the Nashville Predators. But to the now-former 30th place team in the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings. I do not know if this was worst loss of the season so far, but its definitely among the worst given the opponent and the performance.
The Kings could be argued to be the slowest team in the league, they even played last night, and yet the showed more energy, vigor, and speed than the New Jersey Devils tonight. Among many of Los Angeles’ problems this season, they were one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. They lit up Keith Kinkaid for five goals, with four in the third period alone. The Kings are also one of the least successful penalty killing teams in the NHL this season. The Devils not only failed to score on any of their six power plays, but they registered a total of three shots on net (and one goal post) with the man advantage. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Devils limited the Kings to two high-danger chances in 5-on-5 play - and still allowed four 5-on-5 goals tonight. This was a game where if it could have gone awry, then it probably did.
Murphy and his famous law was also on display with two of the goals against. The first one, scored by Adrian Kempe, started when Andy Greene attempted a zone exit, the puck hit off Drew Stafford’s back, and Stafford got his blade on the shot in an attempt to block it away. The fourth one, scored by Dion Phaneuf, started with a faceoff loss after an icing by the Devils and the shot hit off Egor Yakovlev’s body to have the puck change directions to fool Kinkaid. That’s two bad breaks. The goaltender also had zero chance on the laser of a one-timer that Tyler Toffoli rang off the back bar (GA #2), the tap-in off the rush created by an offensive failure (GA #3), and a point-blank shot by, of all people, Ilya Kovalchuk after a sadly common-this-season weak defensive play by the Devils (GA #5). If you were to ask me which goal Kinkaid should have stopped, then I would struggle to give you an answer.
But my struggles would pale in comparison to most of the Devils skaters’ issues tonight. The first period performance from the Devils was largely insipid. Fortunately, the Kings are not that good of a team and it was only 0-1 after said period. The Devils awoke in the second period after wasting two minutes with their power play. The attacks started coming more often. Jesper Bratt made a really slick backhand pass from behind the goal line that fooled both goalie Jack Campbell and Drew Doughty. Pavel Zacha took the pass and finished it at the open right post to tie the game. The Devils continued to push forward and it seemed like everything was going to be OK. The game was tied, the Devils were playing a competitive game, and the Kings really did not do much until the series of penalties by the end of the period.
Then came the third period and I cannot help but feel that I’ve seen this before. The 2018-19 Devils have had this tendency to respond poorly to a negative event against them. A bad shift begets more bad shifts. A goal against begets more poor play. Even if the situation is not that bad and most teams could just settle down, re-focus, and deal with the situation, the Devils continued the faltering. Toffoli scored a power play goal on a great shot. That’s followed by a failure in the offensive zone yielding a counter attack where Mirco Mueller impotently points at a man as Toffoli taps in a feed from Michael Amadio to make it 1-3. That’s followed by an icing by the fourth line on the next shift. The Kings get their top forward line out and a bad bounce off a Phaneuf shot makes it 1-4. By the time the game settled down, the Devils were all but down and out of it. They played out the game to little avail. The storm was over and the Devils couldn’t weather it.
It was a bad game where plenty went against the Devils. While that tends to happen to all teams at some point in an 82-game season, this is far from the first time it has happened. The failures, the bad breaks, the poor responses to bad events, and so forth have all occurred to the Devils just it has back in several games in November, December, and January. This is just how the 2018-19 Devils are at this point. That is how they can take a large loss from one of the worst teams in the National Hockey League. Fittingly, the Devils are now in thirtieth. A word comes to mind: Boo.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Jewels from the Crown for a Los Angeles-based take on this game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
I Actually Agree with John Hynes: As I watched this game from home, I managed to stick around for the post-game press conference. I was impressed with John Hynes’ candid descriptions on what went wrong tonight. He pointed out that on three of the goals, the puck was on a Devils stick at some point and they failed to execute. He pointed out that an icing helped cause a goal against tonight. He pointed out how the power play gave them nothing tonight. I’ve been critical of Hynes, his staff, and especially the decision by the Devils to give him an extension on January 3, 2019. But I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of what Hynes said.
However, I must point out that as much as he is correct that the players need to execute better and make better decisions with the puck, I’m not sure about his abilities to get that message across. This was Game #50 of the 2018-19 season. The vast majority of the roster were with Hynes and Alain Nasreddine last season. Several players are familiar with Rick Kowalsky. The issues the Devils suffered tonight from came from many, such as Brian Boyle, Nico Hischier (GA #3, and that stings because he otherwise had an OK game), Mueller, Stafford, and Greene to name a few. It was not the fault of a young player or unit of young players just having a bad game. Nor it was the fault of a veteran fans like to scapegoat. There were a lot of hands in the Devils’ failure tonight. And this was hardly the first time we’ve seen bad defense, bad plays with the puck, and bad decisions sink the Devils this season. I agree with Hynes’ assessment of this game and I think I would with similar assessments of past games. I’ll go as far as to say that I do not think that the coaching outside of the power play was a huge problem tonight.
But if Hynes hasn’t been able to turn those assessments and observations into improved play by the skaters by now, then when should we actually expect it? Will it even happen? Would someone else be more effective at communication and turning learnable situations into actual learning?
The Power Play was a Waste: Seriously, six opportunities, three shots on net, and a penalty taken during one that led to another, which ended in the following period with a the eventual game-winning PPGA. The Devils often dumped it in on entries with very little success as the Kings kept getting the puck with ease. When the Devils would get an entry, they would look and attempt difficult, zone-wide passes and try to fire shots at the far post, which often missed the mark and helped the Kings get a clearance. I know Taylor Hall is hurt, but how can Kowalsky and the staff continue to let the power play units fail to utilize their man advantage and keep them trying to do the same things.
I Needed More: Natural Stat Trick had the Devils with eight high-danger chances, 26 scoring chances (this includes misses), and 30 shots on Jack Campbell. Yet, I thought Campbell could have been tested more. The first half of the second period was the best the Devils looked all game and I thought they did a good job at making the goalie work. But outside of that, the Devils did not really challenge. I got the sense that plenty of those chances did miss and those that did not were well received by Campbell.
I Don’t Blame You But...: As sympathetic as I am to Keith Kinkaid, this is another 3+ goal against performance by the future free agent. His last less-than-three goal against night was the Arizona game on January 4. He has started in seven games since then, including tonight. I do not think the five goals tonight were his fault; but he should take a seat for the next one. Regardless of your feelings about Cory Schneider, Kinkaid has done nothing in the past three to four weeks to prove that he deserves to be treated like a starter.
I will point out that Kinkaid should give Andy Greene a Thank You card for helping him prevent a goal against in the second period when Kinkaid was caught out of the crease. Dustin Brown was robbed by the captain. Greene did not have much of an impact tonight, but he did that at least.
Seriously, No More: Kurtis Gabriel added a lot of nothing tonight again. Kevin Rooney added a lot of nothing tonight again. Putting him with Brian Boyle was a bad idea as the line was slow and largely ineffective. Not that Brett Seney would have made a huge difference, but I fail to see why he should sit so AHL veterans get minutes to show why most of their professional careers have been in the minors.
Reminder: Miles Wood did indeed play a game tonight. So did Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman. They were not bad in the run of play but their impact on the game was very occasional.
Sigh: In 5-on-5 play, when the Quitter was on the ice, he was heavily booed and the attempts were 8-5 in favor of New Jersey with shots even at 4-4. He only played 10:07 of 5-on-5 hockey too. Unfortunately, bad defense allowed him to make it a 1-5 loss late in the third period.
HA: The Devils sent out emails to season ticket holders on January 30 about the auto-renewal for 2019-20. STHs have to manually opt-out by February 13, so this home stand is a good opportunity for the team to really push people to let the renewal happen. This game makes me think more about opting out. So does my invoice showing that next season will be about $80 more expensive. The Devils think STHs should pay more money to see next season’s team. That’s funny. No. That’s hilarious. I’m laughing a lot over here. I have to put on my LOL-lerskates to get to the ROFL-copter. That’s how funny that is. More money to see the Devils after this season.
Hey, Devils sales people who read this site, Sherman Abrams and his disciples tend to not buy tickets. Fans of the team who want to see a competitive product are not being given any reasons recently to do so either. Keep that in mind if/when the opting out happens.
Two Last Thoughts: I appreciate all of the fans booing Kovalchuk tonight. Spare me the “well, it’s a good thing they don’t have his contracts...” argument. The man quit on a deal and quit at the peak value of the contract. Out of general principle, he should be reviled and I’m glad that he was. The fans were giving out energy, often directed at The Quitter; and the Devils decided they were not interested in feeding off of it. You fans were the real stars of the night in my eyes.
I was disappointed by tonight’s loss, a sentiment I have written far too many times this season. I don’t like writing it, but what do you want me to do? Focus solely on positives for the now-30th place New Jersey Devils? I fail to see why some fans do not want to see criticism of the team, the coaches, and/or the management that put all this together. (And the answer is that it involves all three.) They’re next to last in the standings. If not in or around this position, then when?
Your Take: The Devils were lit up at home with a disastrous third period where they allowed four goals in a 1-5 loss. This is just how things are with the 2018-19 Devils. I thought the performance was largely insipid where the Devils took a punch to the mouth and kind of just lied on the proverbial canvas as they took more punches. What did you think of it? Who impressed you, if any? Who was the worst Devil tonight in your eyes? Where do you go from here if you’re Ray Shero and/or John Hynes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s 1-5 loss the Los Angeles Kings in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account. Thanks to everyone who commented during the game. Thank you for reading.