Kings Defeat Devils in Kovalchuk’s Return

Ilya Kovalchuk played his first game in Newark last night since retiring from the NHL following the 2012-13 season and bailing to the KHL. He returned to the NHL this past summer, signing with the Los Angeles Kings and tonight was the Kings’ only visit to New Jersey this season.

And the fans were all over it. Kovalchuk was booed from the announcment of the Kings’ starting lineup to the final horn and every time he touched the ice (or the puck) in between. Unfortunately, it was all for naught as the Devils fell to the Kings 5-1 as the Devils failed to string together another two wins. They were really killed by a two minute stretch at the beginning of the third period where the Kings just unloaded for three unanswered goals.

The Devils did get some good news on the injury front as Travis Zajac played after missing the trip to Montreal over the weekend. Zajac once again logged the most ice time for forwards at 20:03 (5:10 of power play time and 32 seconds on the penalty kill). Eric Gryba and Brett Seney were New Jersey’s healthy scratches and Cory Schneider returned to the New Jersey Devils following his rehab assignment down in Binghamton. Mackenzie Blackwood was sent back to the AHL team and Cory backed up Keith Kinkaid.

Kinkaid ended up stopping 20-of-25 shots against for an .800 save percentage. Opposing him was Jack Campbell, who stopped 29-of-30 for a .967 save percentage. He was named the game’s second star of the night.

The special teams situation for the Devils tonight was not pretty. LA went 1-for-3 on the power play with four shots and had two shorthanded shots. New Jersey was an abysmal 0-for-5 with the extra man, testing Campbell only three times, although they did register two shorthanded shots as well. After a few games where they seemed to be clicking on the power play, the Devils were back to their old ways, seemingly.

Adrian Kempe got the scoring started when beat Kinkaid from Carl Hagelin just 6:21 into the game. LA had jumped out to a lead that would last them until the second when Pavel Zacha notched his ninth of the year from Jesper Bratt and Drew Stafford. The goal came at 3:31 of the second period and came when Stafford worked the puck down low to Bratt. Bratt then made a nice behind-the-back no-look pass to Zacha in front. Zacha finished and the Devils had leveled things at one.

That is how the second period ended. Then that two minute stretch, which began just 32 seconds in to the third frame, when Tyler Toffoli scored from Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty to make it 2-1 Kings. At the 1:07 mark, Toffoli struck again, scoring from Michael Amadio and Brendan Leipsic to make it 3-1 LA. At the 1:52 mark, Dion Phaneuf scored his first of the season from Kopitar to make it 4-1 Los Angeles. Just like that, it seemed, the wheels had fallen off and the game was getting out of hand.

Things settled down and stayed stable until Kovalchuk scored his 11th of the year at 17:36 from Kopitar to make it 5-1, which was our final. At that point, the boo’s would have really rained down, were any Devils fans really left in the stands. The good majority of Devils faithful had fled for the exits and did not see Kovalchuk’s goal.

Following that outburst of LA offense, Toffoli was named the game’s first star while Kopitar was the third star.

There was a little bit of a scuffle late when Carl Hagelin shot a puck in on the Devils’ net just as the final buzzer was going off. That set off a meeting between the two teams at center ice and Hagelin was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the 20:00 mark of the third period.

So in the final assessment, the Devils out shot the Kings 30-25 and won 52-percent of the game’s faceoffs. They also out hit Los Angeles 28-20. The Kings came away with more blocked shots at 16-12 and less giveaways at three to the Devils’ ten.

Individually, Damon Severson led all Devils skaters with 23:32 of ice time (5:25 on the PP and 1:58 killing penalties). Shots on goal saw Zajac, Blake Coleman, Kyle Palmieri, Miles Wood, Marcus Johansson and Andy Greene all lead with three shots each. Kurtis Gabriel and Kevin Rooney led in hits with six each, blocked shots were led by Greene with three and takeaways were led by Zajac, Palmieri, Johansson and Greene with two each.

For the record, Kovalchuk’s stat line ended at one goal for one point, a plus-2 plus/minus rating, one shot on goal, one blocked shot and a giveaway in 13:59 of total ice time (including 3:00 on the power play). He did not win any of the faceoffs he took, though. So at least there’s that.

Next up, the Devils remain in Newark for this home stand as they take on the Islanders on Thursday at 7 PM. We will have that here for you and, of course, encourage you to leave a message in the comment section if you would like.