The Los Angeles Kings came into Prudential Center on an eight game winning streak while the Devils had just dropped two to Metro Division rivals in the Columbus Blue Jackets (a game where they had a 2-0 lead in the first period) and the New York Rangers. But the Devils knew that they were, as coach John Hynes had put it, playing “soft and loose” and they were willing to work to right the ship. The coaching staff held a practice on Monday that players were describing as the toughest since training camp and it paid off in dividends. The Devils beat LA 5-1 on Tuesday night, ending their brief slide and the Kings’ winning streak in the process.
The Devils would need to right the ship without the services of Marcus Johansson, if at least for the night. Johansson is day-to-day with an ankle bruise suffered while blocking a shot against the Rangers. Ben Lovejoy and Dalton Prout were the healthy scratches. Drew Stafford came back in with Johansson’s injury.
The Devils would also have a scare thrown into them late in this game against the Kings when Taylor Hall, who was working on a two goal game, suffered a knee-on-knee hit from Kurtis MacDermid. Hall would continue to play for a couple of shifts, but eventually left the game. Coach Hynes said that they will know more about Hall’s injury, if any, later today. The hit looked ugly, but hopefully the team does not lose him for any length of time. Hall would briefly tie Brian Gibbons for the team lead in goals with 11 until Gibbons scored a shorthanded goal late to notch his 12th of the year and take back the lead.
The goaltending matchup saw Jonathan Quick going for the Pacific Division-leading Kings. He would make 21 saves on 26 Devils shots on goal. Cory Schneider was back in net for the Devils and made 16 saves on 17 LA shots. Cory also came up big when needed, including on a big save early in the first period on Dustin Brown, keeping New Jersey in the game when called upon.
Travis Zajac got the goal scoring kicked off. He had been badly snake bitten since his return to the lineup, but connected at 13:44 of the first period. It came when Brian Gibbons pushed the puck through the neutral zone. He sent it along the near boards to Blake Coleman, who tried to pass to a cutting John Moore in the slot. Coleman grabbed the puck from him and started the cycle along the far boards, getting it Zajac. He turned and fired, with the rebound coming to Gibbons. He shot off of the paddle of Quick’s stick and the rebound dropped right back to Zajac, who tapped it by Quick to make it 1-0 Devils.
The Devils would take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission when Hall scored his first of two. This one came on the power play, as Torrey Mitchell was serving two minutes for tripping Will Butcher and came at 16:14 of the first period. Butcher dropped the puck off in the neutral zone for Hall, who weaved with Pavel Zacha, giving him the puck and crossing up with him. Zacha gave to Brian Boyle just inside the Los Angeles blue line. He dropped to Butcher at the point and Butcher found Jesper Bratt along the near half wall. Bratt found a seam to Hall, who was swooping in on the back of the play. He had the entire half of the net to shoot at and did not miss, making it 2-0. Overall on the power play, the Devils were 1-for-2 with a single shot on goal – giving them a 100-percent shooting percentage on the man advantage. The Kings were 0-for-3 also with a lone shot on goal.
New Jersey had a two goal lead going into the first break, but that was where they were against Columbus a few nights ago too. They would need to go for the kill to put a team like LA away. Hall would be up to that task. He scored unassisted at 15:42 of the second period to make it 3-0. It came when the Kings had some trouble in the Devils’ zone. Play eventually came to the LA blue line, where Jake Muzzin tried to corral the puck. Hall snuck in behind him and stole the puck, moving in one-on-one on Quick. Hall avoided the poke check and buried the puck five hole to triple the Devils’ lead.
A little over a minute later, at 17:04, the Devils would add another one courtesy of Brian Boyle. It came when Boyle won the offensive zone draw for the Devils to Jimmy Hayes in the corner. Hayes kicked the puck to Stefan Noesen, who passed back to Boyle at the near faceoff dot. He fired one that beat Quick cleanly to make it 4-0. It was a nice goal set up by the Devils winning the faceoff. They won 57-percent on the night, so they did pretty good there for the game.
The Devils took their 4-0 lead into an eventful third period. At the 12:04 mark, Torrey Mitchell would score from Alec Martinez and MacDermid to get the Kings on the board and cut off Cory Schneider’s shutout bid. But Brian Gibbons would get that one right back for New Jersey when he scored shorthanded and unassisted at the 19:49 mark.
It was set up when Damon Severson went off for hooking at 17:53 and the Devils went on the penalty kill. As the Kings were trying to break into the Devils’ zone, Coleman put his stick down to knock the puck off Adrian Kempe’s stick. It bounced around to a few LA players until Gibbons cut off a pass and skated up ice with the puck. In all alone on Quick, he made a nice inside out move to beat him and make it 5-1 Devils. As mentioned, that was Gibbons’ team leading 12th goal of the season. It was also the Devils’ first shorty since their October 28 game against the Arizona Coyotes.
And that was your final. Stat-wise, Steven Santini led all Devils skaters with 22:17 of ice time. Gibbons led in shots on goal with four while Sami Vatanen, Santini, Zajac and Jimmy Hayes all tied for the lead in hits with four apiece. John Moore, Andy Greene and Severson all had two blocks each to lead the Devils in that category.
Next up, the Devils travel to Montreal on Thursday to face a struggling Canadiens team. The Devils will look to strike against a Habs team that has fallen out of things in the weak Atlantic Division. We will see how they respond in Quebec. Can they keep the momentum of the LA game going? Or will they fall back on bad habits? Also, will they have Taylor Hall available to them on Thursday. We will find out then.