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Tough Love (Devils in These Details; 12.12.17)

Photo by Debby Wong

 

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

NEWARK, NJ — Yesterday’s practice for the New Jersey Devils was, admittedly, brutal. Their film session during the day was even more so. It was obvious that a motivated New Jersey Devils team took the ice tonight, and it was not just because one of the National Hockey League’s best teams was in town.

New Jersey came out flying, led by Taylor Hall’s two goals, as the Devils dispatched the Los Angeles Kings 5-1, with the win snapping a two-game losing streak for New Jersey and also ending the Kings’ eight-game winning streak.

While the Devils have been one of the surprise packages in the league this season, their last five periods have been as poor as the team has played this season, losing a two-goal first period lead in a defeat to Columbus last Friday before putting up a near listless performance in a 5-2 road loss to the New York Rangers the following day. For two whole days, practice was more like boot camp. The Devils players got the message, controlling the game from the outset.

“Saturday night, we played soft and loose, and tonight, we played tight and hard, and I think that was the big difference in the game,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “We addressed that, and it was really good to see the players, I think, take a lot of pride in it. We got rewarded for some hard work.”

Center Travis Zajac was the first person rewarded for hard work in the game, beating arguably the Kings’ two best players, center Anze Kopitar and defensemen Drew Doughty, to a rebound off of a Brian Gibbons shot to score past goalkeeper Jonathan Quick to give New Jersey a 1-0 lead with 6:16 remaining in the first period. Less than three minutes later, New Jersey doubled its lead on the power play, as Jesper Bratt delivered a perfect cross-ice pass to Hall, who fired into a yawning net past Quick at the 16:14 mark of the first period.

The Devils took that 2-0 lead into the second period, the same lead they had in their last home game against the Blue Jackets before allowing five goals in the final 40 minutes to drop a 5-3 decision. There was no letup from New Jersey in this game, as the Devils’ defense, which only allowed five shots to the Kings in the first period, only allowed six in the second. Late in the period, New Jersey was able to effectively put the game away, as Hall stripped defenseman Jake Muzzin of the puck in the offensive zone before skating in all alone on Quick and beating him through the five-hole to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

Like the first period, it took the Devils less than three minutes to score again, as Brian Boyle took a feed from the corner by Stefan Noesen and slapped a shot through the legs of quick for a 4-0 edge at the 17:04 mark of the third.

Hall’s second goal and Boyle’s tally came just a minute and 22 seconds apart.

“Everybody wanted to have contributions,” said Boyle, who scored his sixth goal of the season tonight. “Everybody wanted to get some of that taste out of their mouths from the last few games we’ve had. To a man, each guy had to make a statement. We really needed to pull our own weight. For us to be successful, that’s what we have to do.”

Boyle elaborated further on the tough couple of days the team had before its matchup tonight.

“We really had to look within ourselves. We had enough to focus on with our own game. I think we did that the last couple of days. We took a little bit of medicine yesterday. I think we worked extremely hard yesterday, and more of the same today. I think we took a step. We need to keep moving forward.”

Not all of the news was good for the Devils, as Hall hurt his knee on a hit by Kings defenseman Kurtis MacDermid, a hit that prompted a scuffle between the two teams by the penalty box area. Hall skated another shift before leaving the game for good to be reevaluated.

“It was a big guy hitting, and I think Taylor was trying to get out of the way,” said Hynes when asked about his opinion on MacDermid’s hit. “I think it’s a judgment call on the referee. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a dirty hit, but it’s a little bit of a dangerous hit.”

In their eight-game winning streak, the Kings had averaged 3.63 goals per game while only allowing 1.63 goals against, but were only able to muster 17 shots on goal – no more than six shots in any one period – while allowing five goals, including a late-game short-handed goal by Brian Gibbons with 11 seconds remaining to provide the final margin of victory for the Devils.

The Kings’ only goal came from Torrey Mitchell, who deflected a point shot from defenseman Alec Martinez at the 12:04 mark of the third to spoil Cory Schneider’s bid at a shutout for New Jersey.

Schneider stopped 16 shots to improve his record to 12-6-3 on the season.

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