Who Beat the Devils?

by | Mar 4, 2024

Who Beat the Devils?

by | Mar 4, 2024

Los Angeles, CA—Beware the backhand. In another day, one’s father would not allow the purchase of a curved stick because it was a sure way to weaken the backhand. If my dad had talked to Cam Talbot fifteen seconds into the game against New Jersey in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, he would have had all the proof he needed for his theory. The puck got loose of the corner, was suddenly on the stick of Timo Meier, and like a flash, backhanded into the open left side of the net. Talbot had no idea where it was going.

It could have been the most discouraging start in a while, putting the Kings off their game, a contest which both they and the Devils really needed to win.

For SoCal fans, seeing New Jersey was an opportunity—a chance to eyeball for themselves a team that gets a lot of chatter in the hockey media. Forget Pittsburgh (old) Philly (playing above their level), Carolina (can’t quite put all the dots together), New York (they’re as good as their points say). We just don’t see anything of New Jersey out here, either in person or on TV. So the speed and skill of the Hughes brothers, the continued excellence of Timo Meier, and the questionable nature of the team’s netminding were all in mind as a packed LA hockey arena looked on mid-day on Sunday.

After a start like that, good thing Los Angeles had some tricks of their own up their sleeves. One was a breakout pass that sprung Phillip Danault, coming off the bench, on a breakaway. He went straight in, no dekes, and fired low and hard, eluding the leg/sleeve of the goalie to his right. Game tied.

The Devils needed this game desperately. New Jersey played a decent game Friday night, their goaltending aside, in a loss to Anaheim. Two points gone. The goalie pull and replacement that happened at the second period break wasn’t even announced, noted one commentator I spoke with. The game was not as close as its 4-3 score would indicate.

The Kings continue to attempt to solidify their playoff seeding, winning 5-1 against Vancouver late last week after losses to Calgary and Edmonton on a bad-luck Canadian road trip. In Sunday’s game, they shook off that early backhand and surged ahead of New Jersey late in period one on a weak goal, a wrister by Laferriere for his ninth of the season. The shot, from distance, did not appear to be screened, and was completely stoppable.

When Nico Daws let in two more by around mid-period of the middle frame, he was yanked for the second game in a row. The third goal (first goal of period two) was not his fault. The Kings’ Moore got sprung on a breakaway with two guys closing on him. He managed to get the puck toward the net, where Matt Roy hooked it and sent it to the opposite front side, where Danault fired it in for his second of the game.

The fourth was more suspect. Off a faceoff, the Kings passed the puck around until Kevin Fiala had a clear shot on net, which he buried. This was on the power play, mind you. But that was it for Daws. Akira Schmid came in, facing three shots in the remainder of the period.

Was the problem really the goaltending? No. It was the fault of the team in front, which largely offered no pushback, either while plays were happening or afterwards. New Jersey has speed. Good night, that Hughes kid can skate. They have playmaking. Timo Meier takes care of that. But when the Kings got going, they just bowled past the Devils, without even a sideways look.

Interestingly, the Kings were being outshot in the middle of the game, and at the end of two periods, they were behind 18-16 in terms of shots. (The number was later amended to 17-16.) This is a shift from other games of late, where the need to break through the “no shots, too much passing” wall has led them to fire away from everywhere.

They didn’t need to follow that strategy, however, with New Jersey slowly rolling over and going away quietly after one further goal, not on Schmidt, but on the open net. Danault fought through a check to record that one. It was his first hat trick as a King and the second of his NHL career. These were his first goals on Kings’ home ice this year, interestingly. He described his first goal by crediting “Kevin [Fiala]. Great play by him. Good pass, and just good play all around.”

New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff summarized the situation well: “We got the start we wanted, came out and scored a goal. You can do a lot of great things in the game, and then you can beat yourself. I thought we beat ourselves.” That seems close, but not entirely accurate, unless what he means is that they simply didn’t have the will to finish, to impose their game on a more mature and focused Kings’ squad.

The Devils now go home for three games, versus Florida, St. Louis, and Carolina. Surely, they know that their fading playoff hopes ride on winning out the short homestand and carrying on winning past that. The Kings now have a game every  second day through next Monday, five goals in nine games. The next one is Tuesday, versus the Canucks, who will be coming off a rugged game versus the Ducks Sunday  evening.

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