The Devils had come into Southern California winners of five straight and riding high. Now they are just happy to get out of Southern California.
New Jersey lost 4-2 to the Los Angeles Kings and have now dropped two straight after their loss on Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks.
Some roster news, Yohann Auvitu was sitting out his second straight game after being banged up in Dallas. Jacob Josefson was a healthy scratch with Blake Pietila making his season debut for the Devils. Pietila is the leading scorer of the Albany Devils and was called up to skate on a line with Reid Boucher and Devante Smith-Pelly. Coach John Hynes said that he “will add size and speed” to the lineup. Also in the lineup for the Devils was Beau Bennett, a native of Southern California and the first California born and trained NHL player to win a Stanley Cup (last year with Pittsburgh). He grew up a Kings fan, so this had to have been a special night for him.
The Kings are a virtual MASH unit, missing key guys like Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Jonathan Quick. Pavel Zacha might have been the only Devil disappointed to not see Kopitar, as he models his game after him (a good two way player who scores goals) and was a fan of his growing up. He wanted to play against him, but will have to wait as Kopitar is out with an injury.
But even with all of those injuries, the Devils still knew they would be in for a tough game. The Kings lead the NHL in hits, and are a very physical team capable of grounding an opponent down on any given night.
As for goaltender Quick, he injured his groin in the first period of the Kings’ season opener and will be out of action until about January. Starting in his place tonight was Peter Budaj, who turned aside 21 of the Devils’ 23 shots. Cory Schneider was a bit of a surprise starter for New Jersey, as most figured Hynes would counter with Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid did not get the nod as the Devils are not playing a back-to-back in California and have a more tightly packed schedule around Thanksgiving, where Kinkaid will get a start or two. Schneider made 24 saves on 27 shots faced.
There was some concern as to how the ice would be today due to so many events packed so closely together at the Staples Center: there was a Los Angeles Lakers game last night, the Kings game today, a Los Angeles Clippers game tonight and the American Music Awards tomorrow. With such a busy building as the Staples Center is, there is always going to be some worry as to the quality of the ice, but it did not seem to be too much of a problem for the teams, although the puck was bouncing a lot throughout the game.
The Kings were wearing their new black and grey Saturday alternate uniforms, which are being worn for their 50th anniversary season. Also, the initial puck drop was delayed about 15 minutes as the Kings were honoring Rogie Vachon, former Kings goalie, coach and executive and Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2016 inductee, in a special ceremony.
The Devils broke the ice on this one just 3:38 into the first period when John Moore scored his third goal of the year. The goal happened when Moore fired a wrist shot through traffic to put the Devils up. Boucher and Smith-Pelly had the assists. With that goal, seven of the last 11 Devils goals have come off of the sticks of defensemen. The Devils had jumped out to the early 1-0 lead.
It would remain that way through the first period due to strong play by Cory Schneider. The Devils were on the power play at about the 10 minute mark when Tyler Toffoli broke in short handed. He made a nice toe-drag move around Devils d-man Damon Severson and went one-on-one alone with Cory. Schneider stopped him to preserve the Devils’ lead.
But the Devils could not keep Los Angeles off of the board forever. At 4:58 of the second period, Alec Martinez scored his third of the year from Nic Dowd and Devin Setoguchi. LA had sustained pressure in the Devils zone and the Devils were not able to get a change. With five tired New Jersey players on the ice, Martinez was able to find the back of the net. The Kings had tied things up at one.
The Devils had chances to take the lead back. Adam Henrique was all alone in on Budaj late in the second period when Nick Lappin picked a Kings player’s pocket at the LA blue line. He passed it to Henrique, but the puck just rolled off the toe of his stick when he tried to shoot.
With the Devils being badly outshot in the second period, a strong forecheck would later lead to the Kings taking a 2-1 lead when Tanner Pearson scored his seventh of the year unassisted. The Devils would get out of the second frame finding themselves down by a goal.
But Los Angeles was not done. Just 45 seconds into the third period, the Kings found themselves on a 2-on-1. Cory Schneider made the initial save on Jeff Carter’s shot, but could not find the puck to cover up and Carter ended up tapping the puck behind him for his seventh of the season. Assists went to Toffoli and Drew Doughty. The replay showed the breakdown in the play by the Devils: Andy Greene pinched in in the Kings zone but had no forward covering which led to the 2-on-1. It was now 3-1 Los Angeles.
A story of the night, as it has been for the last eight games is the Devils’ power play, or lack of it. The Devils went 0-for-2 tonight and have gone 0-for-26 over those last eight games. The Kings were 0-for-1 with the man advantage.
The Devils would pull Schneider with 3:28 remaining in the third period, hoping to tie things up. They would come close. Nick Lappin scored at 17:28 off of a goal mouth scramble where Budaj did not have the puck fully covered and Lappin was able to bank it in off of a sharp angle. PA Parenteau and California-native Bennett had the assists. The Devils had cut the Kings’ lead to 3-2.
But it would not last, as Jake Muzzin added an empty net goal at 19:32 when he was pretty much just trying to clear the zone and accurately fired the puck down the ice. Dwight King had the assist and Los Angeles had a 4-2 lead.
And that was where it would end. New Jersey has now dropped two straight and will look to get back on track as they finish up their western road trip in San Jose on Monday. The Sharks are, of course, the defending Western Conference champions and we will see how the Devils bounce back to play them.