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Five observations from New Jersey vs Los Angeles:
1. What a stale performance
LA was playing in the latter half of a back-to-back. It was their third road game in four nights. They were missing some key pieces (Jeff Carter, injury; Jonathan Quick, rest). They sit last in the Western Conference. They've already gone through a coaching change and begun selling key players (i.e. Jake Muzzin). Their season is over. And yet they still managed to go into New Jersey and beat them by four pucks, tying their largest margin of victory this season. Quite honestly, that's embarrassing.
It wasn't just that the Devils lost. It's how they lost. Heading into the 3rd period, the game was completely up for grabs. The Devils no-showed conceding four times and mustering up *checks notes* one high-danger chance while attempting to come from behind.
As a whole, I don't think the Devils played as poorly as the score suggests. They were really bad in segments and certain game states, though, and deserve all the bashing that comes with a four-goal defeat at home to a team that entered play sitting 30th in the NHL.
2. The power play was brutal
Heading into the game, I thought that was one area the Devils could make some noise. It wasn't that they're prolific on the PP – far from it, especially without Taylor Hall. Los Angeles has just struggled mightily to kill penalties all season long. Watching last night's game, you wouldn't know it. In 8:26 of 4v5 play, the Kings were only outshot 3-2. Perhaps more significantly, they didn't allow a single high-danger chance and created one of their own. That's not exactly surprising considering how badly New Jersey struggled to set up shop in the offensive zone. They were *really* sloppy.
3. The top line showed life
Marcus Johansson, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri have not played well together. Heading into last night's game, the Devils had controlled 43.8% of the attempts and 41.9% of the chances with that trio on the ice. Unacceptable numbers given their talent, especially given how little there is throughout the rest of the lineup.
Last night they seemed to turn a corner. Though they didn't score, they at least threatened. At 5v5, they accounted for eight of the team's 22 scoring chances (36.36%). They were also flat-out dominant in terms of possession.
4. The Keith Kinkaid thing is not going to happen
Another game, another poor start for Kinkaid. Despite facing just 25 shots and three high-danger chances against a tired, offensively inept Kings team, Kinkaid allowed five goals. This after giving up four on 25 shots last time out against another bad team in the New York Rangers.
I get starting him, especially against weak opponents, to try and boost his numbers/trade value but it really feels like a lost cause at this point.
I mean, the guy owns a .896 save percentage through 37 appearances and has only posted a save percentage *above* .900 in consecutive games once since the middle of November. Once! It is February, for crying out loud.
At this point, I'd rather just spend the game minutes trying to rehabilitate Cory Schneider – if it doesn't work, it helps the tank at least – or developing Mackenzie Blackwood; guys who, for better or for worse (talking Schneider here), will likely be on the team next year and for the foreseeable future.
5. Final notes
a) Will Butcher led the Devils in 5v5 ice, posted a +4 chance high-danger differential (5 for, 1 against), and didn't start a single shift in the offensive zone. That's encouraging.
b) Only Kurtis Gabriel and Kevin Rooney saw less 5v5 ice than Jesper Bratt. You'd think an offensively starved team would want the latter out there fairly often, especially while trailing. Apparently not.
c) Blake Coleman finished the night with six shot attempts, three chances, five hits, and a pair of penalties drawn. Win or lose, this guy plays hard and makes an impact.
d) I am a big fan of Ilya Kovalchuk and that seems to ruffle the feathers of a lot of people. I'm entitled to my own opinion, as is anyone else, but let me clear the air on my outlook. First and foremost, he played his ass off when he was a member of the Devils. He was electrifying on a nightly basis, he stepped out of his comfort zone and made progress in a lot of new areas (remember how lethal he was on the penalty kill?), he consistently produced while being ridden into the ground in terms of usage, and he played unbelievably well for the Devils en route to their surprising Stanley Cup appearance despite battling a pretty significant back injury.
Kovalchuk's departure very much sucked, of course, but the Devils are in a better place now than they otherwise would be because of it. Given that, and all the joy and memories he brought during his time with the Devils, I choose to remember him positively and will always pull for the guy. Some people – most, based on last night's crowd – feel differently, but that's my take on things.
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