Devils, Kings overcoming key injury losses
LOS ANGELES — A central theme in the opening weeks of the NHL season has been the rash of significant injuries that have sidelined marquee players. It's no different for the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings when they meet on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
The Devils (9-4-3) continue their “Life Without Taylor” saga on the third stop in their five-game road trip. New Jersey lost their most explosive offense threat, left winger Taylor Hall to a left knee injury suffered in its 4-2 win over Buffalo last Saturday and his absence will reinforce the Devils' reliance on their tight-checking defensive style that ranks them second in the NHL in goals against average.
While it's no surprise that starting goaltender Corey Schneider has posted quality numbers in net (7-4-2 record, 2.21 goals-against average, .926 save percentage), the work of backup Keith Kincaid has been as strong (2-0-1 record, 1.66 GAA, .944 save percentage). With the tandem's performance between the pipes, the Devils are off to a surprising start despite being tied for last in the Metropolitan Division in goals scored.
Also impacting the offense is the absence of Mike Cammalleri who is dealing with an undisclosed personal issue and hasn't played since November 8.
Without two of their best offensive weapons, it's no surprise the Devils have played a defensive game on the four-game road trip. They beat Dallas 2-1 in overtime on Tuesday and dropped a 3-2 decision to the Anaheim Ducks Thursday but Coach John Hynes refuses to use the absences as an excuse for the loss.
“The guys we had on the ice can score and are good players,” Hynes said after the loss. “After we went up 2-0 we got a little bit soft. We could have been harder on the puck in certain areas.”
Coach John Hynes has been pleased with the team's overall play as he tries to get a more consistent effort from his power-play unit that went 0-for-3 against Anaheim and failed to convert its last 24 chances over seven games.
“That's a fair assessment,” Hynes said. “There's parts of it that are really good and there are times when the power play is doing a lot of good things. But it's not consistent enough and I think to score you have to be more consistent. You can say you hope one goes in but we're not in the hope business. We have to be more consistent in certain areas.”
The Kings (8-9-1) are trying to stay in the mix for playoff contention while dealing with multiple injuries that are a major reason for its sub-.500 record through 18 games. Every facet of the roster has been impacted, and serious injuries to goaltender Jonathan Quick, left winger Marian Gaborik and defenseman Brayden McNabb have forced coach Darryl Sutter to lean heavily on role players to pick up the slack.
The better news for Los Angeles is that another of the walking wounded, center Anze Kopitar is hopeful to return to the lineup against on Saturday after a three-game absence as his injured wrist continues to improve.
With pivotal players out it's up to the Kings depth players like Devin Setoguchi to provide support. Setoguchi scored his third goal of the season in Thursday's 4-2 win over Edmonton and realizes it is incumbent upon to produce if the Kings are going to break out of their inconsistent play.
“We have to find a way to be more consistent, it's tough. Every team on any given night has a legitimate chance to win,” Setoguchi said. “We just have to find a consistent way to put together 60-minutes and stick to our game plan.”
With the Pacific Division appearing to be far weaker than in previous seasons, coach Darryl Sutter knows that every point will be valuable in a division race that could go down to Game 82. He admits that the injuries has weakened his team significantly and is hoping their continued solid play at home will carry them.
“We aren't the same team that we were,” Sutter said “We have one of the best home records in the National Hockey League and we're in a fight for the division.”