California was not kind to the Devils this year. After falling to Anaheim and the LA Kings last week, the team traveled to Northern California to face the San Jose Sharks. A win would make this road trip a .500 trip. But it was not to be, as the Devils fell 4-0 to the Sharks, suffering their first shutout along the way.
With the Devils already missing key players Taylor Hall and Michael Cammalleri, word came out today that Kyle Palmieri would be sitting with what the team is calling “upper body soreness.” So the team is now down three of their top offensive stars. Defenseman Yohann Auvitu, who has not played since the Dallas game, is “day-to-day” with an injury. With all of that, the lines were shuffled and Pavel Zacha was back to his natural center position.
Although the Devils have it tough, things are no easier for the Sharks. They are missing star center Tomas Hertl, who is out with indefinitely with a knee sprain. Hertl provides a lot of offense and the Sharks have had some trouble scoring goals – much like the Devils have – so far this year. Despite that, though, defenseman Brent Burns does lead the NHL in shots with 80. Burns is a good offensive defenseman who has also played forward for the defending Western Conference champs.
The Devils were visiting some old friends including Pete DeBoer and Larry Robinson, coaching with the Sharks now as well as Paul Martin and David Schlemko, now plying their trade for the Sharks as players. Also, this was Ben Lovejoy and Beau Bennett’s first trip back to the SAP Center since last spring when they won the Stanley Cup there as members of the Penguins (although Bennett was not dressed for the Cup-clinching game).
In goal for the Devils, Keith Kinkaid got his fourth start of the year in the beginning of a rough stretch of games (the Devils will play three games in four days around Thanksgiving and will want Cory Schneider to be rested). He made 37 saves on 41 San Jose shots faced. Last season, Kinkaid had shutout the Sharks on their home ice on March 11. Facing him was Martin Jones. Jones saw just 26 Devils shots and was equal to all of them. It is his second shutout of the season and the 15th of his career according to Eric Gilmore over at NHL.com.
The Devils got things going early when they had a 3-on-2 on a delayed penalty on San Jose early in the first period. That penalty would be an interference call against Matt Nieto at 1:44 into the game. The Devils power play has been struggling and this was not the game where things would change.
On the power play, the Sharks would pick up a Devils shot that rode around the boards and break out with a 2-on-1 with Chris Tierney and Joel Ward. Tierney would elect to shoot and beat Kinkaid to give the Sharks the early 1-0 lead. The goal was unassisted and ended a 45-game goal drought for Tierney. The goal – which came at 1:59 – was also a shorthanded goal, the first such goal the Devils had yielded this season. Things would only get worse for the Devils from there.
About five minutes later, at 6:43, Patrick Marleau scored to make it 2-0 (from Joe Pavelski and Paul Martin). He had just missed a goal on a partial breakaway mere minutes after the penalty expired, when Kinkaid stopped him. Marleau’s goal happened when he first hit the post and then batted the puck out of the air to find the back of the net.
The Devils had their chances too, as Bennett was one-on-one with Jones midway through the first period, but the San Jose netminder turned aside the California native’s wrist shot.
The Devils power play would go 0-for-3 on the night, extending their stretch of futility with the man advantage. The Sharks would go 1-for-5 with the extra skater when Logan Couture scored at 10:33 of the second period after Ben Lovejoy was whistled for interference against Ward. The Sharks had been 1-for-20 on their last 21 chances coming into tonight against the Devils, so they had had their struggles as well. Couture’s goals were assisted by Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. Thornton’s assist was his 900th point as a member of the San Jose Sharks.
The Devils were now down 3-0 in the second period and were reeling. Coach John Hynes elected to use his timeout at the 6:46 mark of the second. Coming out of the timeout, Kinkaid would make a huge glove save on Mikkel Boedker. That kept the Devils in it and minutes later, Devante Smith-Pelly redirected a Jacob Josefson shot that just went over the glass behind the net. It was a good chance, but the Devils could not finish.
With the Tierney (shorthanded), Marleau (even strength) and Couture (power play) goals, the Sharks had scored three goals in three different situations.
Brent Burns would add the capper for the Sharks, as he scored unassisted on a goal that was put into the net inadvertently by Devils defenseman Kyle Quincey. That goal came at 7:28 of the third period.
A scary moment occurred when Tierney took a puck to the face early in the third. He would return, but the fear was that the puck had gotten him in the eye. Apparently, it did not, as he seemed fine when he did return.
The Sharks would end the game on the power play as Blake Pietila was called for boarding against Tommy Wingels at 18:54 of the third. The replay showed that Pietila seemed to be trying to finish his check and Wingels simply turned at a bad time. He was not injured, but the play was still dangerous.
So once the final horn sounded, the Devils had dropped their fourth straight and the Sharks had broken a three game winless streak. The Devils remain at 21 points, good for fifth place in the Metropolitan Division. Just to put into perspective how tough a division the Metro is to play in, the Devils’ 21 points would put them in second place in the Pacific Division. But, playing in the same division as the surging Rangers and Blue Jackets and the perennial powerhouses the Penguins and the Capitals is a rough proposition for a team like the Devils.
Next up, they return home to Prudential Center to face young phenoms Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs for one of only a handful of home games in November. Can the Devils turn it around against a team trending in the right direction like Toronto? Or will they fall further down the standings ladder in the Metropolitan Division? One thing is for certain, though, and that is that the Devils are glad to put California in their rear view mirror.