Devils Forge Successful California Trip

The Devils have had a rough season so far. Having played the most road games in the NHL at this point in the season, the team has not had a lot of time at home. That continued as the Devils spent the last week on a California road trip, hitting Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose. In the end, the trip was a success for the Devils, having taken two of three games, and they head into the All-Star break on a high note.

On Wednesday, January 14, the Devils visited the home of their opponents in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals and this year’s defending Cup champs, the Los Angeles Kings. The Devils opened the scoring at the Staples Center when Steve Bernier scored on the power play with about 54 seconds left in the first period with assists to Mike Cammalleri and Scott Gomez. Early in the second, Dustin Brown got the Kings on the board to tie things with assists to Drew Doughty and Brayden McNabb. But about nine minutes later, Bernier would again strike on the power play (with assists to Gomez and Jon Merrill) to break the tie and from there, the Devils never looked back. At 9:20, Martin Havlat scored his fourth of the year from Devils 2015 All-Star representative Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac to make it 3-1. Mike Cammalleri scored at 10:05 (assists to Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus) to make it 4-1. Ryder then scored the Devils fourth straight unanswered goal exactly seven minutes later at 17:05 with assists to Andy Greene and Adam Larsson. The Kings made things interesting in the third when Marian Gaborik scored at 7:16 (from McNabb and Justin Williams) and Justin Williams scored at 19:02 (from Mike Richards) to finish out the scoring. The Devils won the game 5-3. Mark Fraser fought Jordan Nolan shortly after the Devils took the lead in the first to provide an extra spark to the team. On the strength of two power play goals by Steve Bernier, the Devils had dethroned the struggling Kings.

The Devils next traveled to Orange County to take on the league-leading Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on Friday, January 16. This game was a major letdown for the team and fans after the complete game played in LA two nights before. It was the second straight game in which the Devils faced an opponent that they had previously squared off with in the Stanley Cup Finals, this time rekindling the battle from 2003. Corey Perry got things started at 4:09 of the first period with assists to Cam Fowler and Patrick Maroon, which game the Ducks a 1-0 lead. The Devils would respond at 15:12, tying the game on a power play goal from Martin Havlat (assists to Elias and Marek Zidlicky) as the three Czechs combined to even the score. Unfortunately, that was it for the Devils that night. The Ducks took the lead at 3:16 of the second when Hampus Lindholm put one past Keith Kinkaid (who had come in to the game in the second after Cory Schneider took a shot to the mask that shook him up prior to the first goal of the game – the team held him out due to concussion precautions) on assists from Matt Beleskey and Rickard Rakell. That would go on to be the game winner, as the Devils never scored again. Anaheim scored three more unanswered from Jakob Silfverberg, Maroon and a power play goal from Silfverberg. The Devils limped out of Anaheim with a 5-1 loss. Another fight took place between Tim Sestito and Beleskey in the third, but failed to spark a Devils comeback.

On Monday, January 19, the Devils traveled to Northern California to take on the San Jose Sharks, who had spoiled the Devils opening night in October at Prudential Center, at the SAP Center. Would the team bounce back after the Anaheim blowout, or would they regain the form they showed in Los Angeles? Things looked pretty bad early on as prolific scoring Joe Pavelski notched his 23rd (off an assist from Joe Thornton) against the returning Schneider to make it 1-0 San Jose. The Devils would respond at 15:29 as Jordin Tootoo, who has been doing everything for the Devils lately, scored his fourth of the season from Sestito and the returning-from-illness Jacob Josefson, who was playing in his first game since right after Christmas. Steve Bernier would score another one (his third of the road trip) from Gomez late in the period to make it 2-1 Devils going into the first intermission. At 4:00 into the second, it seemed like the Sharks were back in it, as Matt Nieto scored (assists to Tyler Kennedy and Tomas Hertl) to tie the game at 2. Roughly ten minutes later, Cammalleri broke the tie with a power play goal from Adam Henrique and Gomez (who had a quietly good road trip). That ended up as the game winner, as the third period was all Devils. After killing off a 5-on-3 power play, Travis Zajac scored at 11:10 from Larsson and former Shark, Havlat. The scoring was rounded out as Josefson scored a short-handed goal at 14:32 while Zidlicky was serving a high sticking penalty (assists to Henrique and Merrill). The Devils had gotten out of San Jose (a notoriously tough building to play in – especially for the Devils, who had not won there since 2010) with a 5-2 win.

The Devils now enter the All-Star break with eight days off (the longest time off in the Eastern Conference, second in the NHL only to St. Louis). Some questions linger, though: will they build off of the positivity of the California trip to continue the momentum? Or will the eight days of inactivity hurt them? Patrik Elias, as noted, is their only team member going to Columbus, so the rest of the team will be off for more than a full week. How will this help or hurt the Devils chances at making a run for the playoffs? Their penalty kill has come back to meet Devil-like standards and their power play has been pretty consistent, if only ranked middle of the pack, so the special teams have really clicked for this team. Schneider (who was brilliant in the San Jose game), has been doing his job in goal, but needs goal support, which he does not always receive. Time will tell as the Devils head out of the All-Star break if this team can get hot and make a miracle run for the playoffs.

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