The New Jersey Devils (10-7-2) are in desperate need for a win.
Heading into their matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning (9-12-1), the Devils have lost five straight games, earning just one point in a shootout loss. That streak is just part of a larger, uglier streak for the New Jersey. They have just two wins in the last 10 games, pushing them from the top spot in the Eastern Conference to seventh, three points ahead of the ninth-place New York Rangers.
In a regular season, calling the 19th game a “must win” would be considered ridiculous. In this condensed season, however, that’s the situation New Jersey faces as they host the Lightning tonight at the Prudential Center.
Tonight is the second of three games between the two teams. New Jersey won the first meeting, 4-2, February 7. Patrik Elias led all skaters with three points (1g, 2a). Andy Greene and Ilya Kovalchuk finished with multi-point games for New Jersey. Martin St. Louis led the Lightning with two assists.
Both teams are in the second of back-to-back games. The Devils finished its three game road trip with a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. Marek Zidlicky collected his first multi-goal game since 2009, when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild. The Devils wasted the effort, once again unable to hold lead in the third period. New Jersey allowed three goals in the final period, clinching it’s longest losing streak since the 2010-11 season.
The Devils’ third period struggles weren’t confined to yesterday’s loss. Opponents are outscoring New Jersey, 12-2, in the final period during the losing streak.
Tampa Bay has also lost five straight games and 12 of its last 15 contests. The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Lightning, 4-3, last night at the CONSOL Energy Center. Like New Jersey, Tampa Bay held entered the third period leading, 2-1. Like the Devils, Tampa Bay couldn’t hold the lead. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scored 1:51 seconds apart to push Pittsburgh ahead, 3-2. James Neal scored an important empty-net goal with 52 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Steven Stamkos scored two goals, stretching his league-leading point streak to 10 games. He leads the league with 17 goals, and his 34 points are second to Crosby.
The Lightning, who started the season winning six of its first seven games, has fallen out of first place in the Southeast Division. Tampa Bay trails both Winnipeg and Carolina.
New Jersey may turn to a rookie to end its losing streak. Keith Kinkaid, recalled after the Devils placed Martin Brodeur on injured reserve, could start in place of a struggling Johan Hedberg. The Devils backup has started all five games during the losing streak, allowing 19 goals. He’s lost six straight starts, erasing a 2-0-1 start that saw him allow just two goals on 74 shots.
In 33 starts with Albany of the American Hockey League, Kinkaid went 17-11-5 with a 2.69 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and two shutouts.
Anders Lindback is expected to start for the Lightning. He was pressed into service last night, taking over for an injured Mathieu Garon in the second period of last night’s loss. He’s 7-5-1 with a 3.27 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. He stopped 23 of 27 shots in the loss to New Jersey earlier this season.
The Lightning recalled goalie Cedrick Desjardins from Syracuse of the American Hockey League. In 28 games with the Hamilton and Syracuse, he went 11-15-2 with a 2.70 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.