Preview: Minnesota Wild at New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils were the NHL's worst offensive team in 2015-16, finishing dead-last in goal-scoring. To address this, general manager Ray Shero acquired left winger Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers and signed depth forwards known for having an offensive knack.
Through four games in 2016-17, the Devils are again at the bottom of the league in goals with six in four games and just three goals at 5-on-5. New Jersey failed to score an even-strength goal over its past 175 minutes and 34 seconds, and that lack of even-strength offense proved detrimental in their 2-1 road loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday.
With the Minnesota Wild visiting Prudential Center, Devils coach John Hynes is going back to the drawing board with his line combinations after a 1-2-1 start.
“Unfortunately for us, we've just had inconsistencies throughout the lineup,” Hynes said to the Bergen Record. “(Against Boston), we couldn't find a line combination that got anything done 5-on-5. Is that ideal? No. We would like to have line combinations and have things going but we've got to get better performances from guys on our team, more consistent performances.
“We just have to be better. Even in games, there are pockets where it's real good and times when we're not doing things. Until we get better performances, you're going to keep making decisions, whether that's line combinations or guys in the lineup, guys out of the lineup. Right now it's not good enough to be consistent.”
Center Sergey Kalinin, who has yet to play a game this season because of an illness, is expected to be activated Saturday. But it will likely take more than the return of a 25-year-old depth forward that had seven goals last season to thwart the Wild.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has Minnesota off to a 3-1-0 start and new center Eric Staal has been a big part of it. He owns three goals in four games, including two in the Wild's 3-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
“He wasn't happy with his game last game, and real good players, they bounce back because they've got a lot of pride,” Boudreau said of Staal to the StarTribune. “I thought he was really good. He had the puck a lot, his legs were moving, so when that happens, good things happen.”
Staal had a disastrous 2015-16 season that ended with 39 points in 83 games (he got an extra game because of a trade to the New York Rangers from the Carolina Hurricanes), which was his worst total since his rookie season in 2003-04. He signed a three-year deal with the Wild, and his three goals match what he had in 20 regular-season games with the Rangers.
“I mean, yeah, it feels good to contribute,” Staal said to the StarTribune. “Anytime you come to a new team, you want to be a contributing player right away. I never felt like I forgot how to play. I knew I could play and I've been in this league a long time. But I needed to come here and be ready in training camp, and be fit and hungry.
“I've done that, and now it's about continuing to build. It's only been four games. I got a long way to go but it's been a good start for me and hopefully this team keeps picking up wins, because that's what it's all about.”
Left winger Erik Haula and defenseman Jared Spurgeon were injured Thursday and did not practice Friday, which leaves their status for Saturday unclear. Boudreau could choose to dress seven defensemen if Haula doesn't play, but that may not be decided until Saturday morning.