The New Jersey Devils visited the 30th-place Los Angeles Kings this afternoon and left the City of Angels with a overtime loss. The final score was 1-2. The game could be most positively described as a goaltender’s duel. Both MacKenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Quick played very well in their respective creases. Both faced 38 and 33 shots, respectively. Both denied their opposition several times on plays where you may have expected a goal or a second chance at one. It was a game where a fantastic shot or a shot from a fantastic place was going to beat either goalie. The Kings had two of them to the Devils’ one. Adrian Kempe had the last one; a laser to the top corner past Blackwood’s right side.
The more accurate description of this game was that it was a disappointing one for the Devils. The first period was horrid as the Devils were out-shot 4-15 and out-attempted 9-24 to the 30th place Kings as per Natural Stat Trick. The Kings have been one of the more prolific shooting teams in the NHL but there is a fine line between giving up a lot of shots and getting rolled over. The Devils were in the latter. Their silver lining was a goal; Nikita Gusev made an awesome move to the slot and then passed it across to Jesper Bratt for a one-timer that torched Quick. The second and third periods were much better in the run of play for the Devils. However, there were still shifts filled with calamity and errors in their own end of the rink. Blackwood had to bail out his teammates several times. In regulation, the only one he could not was when Anze Kopitar found Dustin Brown wide open in the slot for a close one-timer that tied up the game. Far from a soft goal against Blackwood, but definitely a mark against the skaters. The Devils did create chances to try and beat Quick, but they were not able to do so. It was if the teams traded off offensive shifts of pressure. The Devils were at risk of being burnt, but Blackwood kept things cool enough. Story of the season with Blackwood in net since November or so. Still not a good performance against the 30th place team in the NHL.
Then came overtime. This was all Los Angeles both literally and figuratively. The Devils did not touch the puck except when Blackwood made a save. The Kings had the puck for all 1:58 of the overtime period. The decisive moment came when a tired Gusev bolted to the bench for a change as the Kings moved the puck back to the neutral zone. Blake Lizotte moved the puck to Kempe on the left side of the ice - further from the benches. Kempe moved in, saw a tired Damon Severson giving him space, and he fired an inch-perfect shot. The Devils failed to battle for the puck, much less win it, and they put in their second terrible and short overtime in this road trip.
I can credit the Devils for upping their offense after that first period. Aside from Bratt’s goal, the Devils generated very little then. The lines centered by Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier at least created opportunities to score. Quick denied them all regardless of how well they executed or not (e.g. over-passing, bad handling, etc.). The game was not so much one-way. But when the Kings were able to maintain possession in the Devils’ zone, things went south fast. The Devils had very little answer for Kopitar, Alex Iafello, and Brown. They also had very little answer for Gabriel Vilardi, Martin Frk, and Kempe. There was only one special team situation - a power play for New Jersey - so the game was all about 5-on-5 in regulation. The 2019-20 New Jersey Devils are a very bad team in 5-on-5 situations and it showed in the first period and on multiple shifts in the second and third periods.
While the Devils have had nothing to really play for months, it does not really take out the sting of these kinds of losses. Quick definitely played very well and the Devils did make him work multiple times. I can respect how the Kings did not just mail it in despite being on track to having the worst non-Detroit record in the NHL. I get that the Devils did not just blow it in regulation. But this is altogether disappointing. The defensemen were not nearly consistent enough in their effectiveness when they actually were being effective. The offense was really driven by two lines and even that was inconsistent. Blackwood put the team on his back and the 18 men in front of him let him down. It still sucks to see the Devils flop in a game regardless of oppponent and the Devils’ situaiton in the season.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Jewels from the Crown for their take on this game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Mikey 1, Joey 0: Given that the Devils and Kings are both bad teams with nothing much to play for, anything of remote interest in the match-up will be highlighted. For this game, it was another brother versus brother situation. Los Angeles called up defenseman Mikey Anderson and dressed him today for his first NHL game. Mikey is the brother of Devils forward Joey Anderson. Both Andersons started the game. The Anderson family was at the game, all clad in Los Angeles black as they were supporting Mikey’s NHL debut.
At the end, who had the better night? From what I seen, it was Mikey. Not just because his team won. When Mikey was on the ice, the Kings out-attempted the Devils 19-15, out-shot them 10-8, and had a positive expected goals differential of +0.28 (0.68 xGF and 0.4 xGA). It was 1-1 in terms of actual goals. Sure, he was on the ice for the Bratt goal, but that was not really his fault. He stuck with Zacha. He was on the ice for Brown’s goal, but he did not really contribute to that. Still, the on-ice numbers in 5-on-5 were positive when Mikey was out there and they were consistent with my impression that he played a solid game.
Joey Anderson, on the other hand, was downright invisible. Joey had one shot attempt all game and it was blocked. When he was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 4-16, out-shot 2-11, and a negative expected goal differential of -0.44 (0.14 xGF, 0.58 xGA). The line of Joey Anderson, Miles Wood, and Travis Zajac was the worst for New Jersey this afternoon and Anderson had the worst line among the three. Wood at least had a few (3) shots on net. Zajac at least won some faceoffs. Joey Anderson did not much of anything of note today.
If that was not enough, consider this. When Mikey was on the ice against Joey today, which lasted 4:51 today, the Kings out-attempted the Devils 3-0 and out-shot them 2-0. It was not complete domination, but it was definitely a matchup that Mikey and his teammates won. So mark it one for Mikey. Alas.
Defensive Miscues Yet Again and Again and Again: The Devils’ forwards were just poor in their own end in terms of helping out their defensemen. As much as the Hischier and Zacha lines created, they allowed nearly as much in response. As much as they made Quick sweat, they had to be bailed out by their own goalie, Blackwood, many times. I want to believe that a lot of this has to do with how their being coached and how their system “operates.” This has been a constant issue all season long. But it was still stunning to me to see the Kings generate 3-on-2s or 2-on-2s or 3-on-3s where a forward is not picking up a trailer, getting mixed up from a cross-over, and/or someone takes a step back instead of stepping up on an open player.
As for the defensemen, I really cannot praise any of them even if they had decent-ish on-ice numbers today. Missed assignments and failures to complete exits were the order of the afternoon, as it has been all season. From the first period to Damon Severson getting mixed up in OT that gave Iafello a makeshift breakaway to Severson watching Kempe wind up for the game-winning shot. Needless to say, this will not be remembered as one of Severson’s better games. Yet, the worst was by far the pairing of Connor Carrick and Fredrik Claesson. They both looked out of their depth multiple times. Both played like they were there to fill a roster spot instead of making case for one. I fail to see the purpose of giving Claesson more games at this point. Carrick at least has some experience. But you could not convince me that Josh Jacobs or Colton White could not have been just as ineffective as these two were today.
I tire of writing about the bad defense as much as you tire of watching and reading it. It remains to be a big factor why the Devils are where they are in the NHL and why they even struggle against the few teams beneath them in the standings. Thank goodness for Blackwood.
Discipline!: At the least, the referees did not think the Devils did anything egregious enough to warrant a whistle. There was just one penalty called today: a tripping call on Kurtis MacDermid when he took down Michael McLeod. This kept the game moving at least.
One Last Thought: I really hope the Devils do not go to Anaheim tomorrow and go to overtime to demonstrate that they have not learned anything from their last two games as opposed to how they showed today in Los Angeles that the Devils did not learn much from their loss to San Jose.
Your Take: The Devils flopped in overtime in a game that was only close because of the goalies involved. Between the two, I think Blackwood had the harder game as the Kings took more attempts, shots, scoring chances, and high-danger chances than Quick. All the same, we must move on. What did you take away from this overtime loss? Did any Devil other than Blackwood impress you? What, if anything, should the Devils adjust before their game tomorrow evening in Anaheim? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this overtime loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter through @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.