The Devils have defeated the Kings in Los Angeles by a definitive 5-1 score. And that score was completely deserved. After what we saw over the last 6 games, the Devils definitely raised their game in all aspects. The defense was more poised, even when the other team was aggressively pressing them. The special teams play was fantastic. The Devils were able to make more of their passes and make more with with puck after said passes. And the team was able to put the opposition defense to the sword with some great finishing. Doc came back to do the play by play tonight and, it may be premature, but perhaps the Devils are back as well.
Before jumping into what I thought of it, check out 2 Man Advantage, IPB, and Gulitti as they all live blogged the game. Well, IPB live blogged the day, which includes the game. Still, check them out for additional thoughts.
The best players on the ice, well, I have to split the difference and pick two. First, Kevin Weekes. He gets his first start since mid-December and he was sensational. The Kings hit the Devils with plenty of shots. The Devils' defense, while crucial at times, they weren't particularly preventive in the shot department. Weekes came up big. Off rebounds, with traffic in front, sliding across the crease with the blocker, and while keeping cool as a cucumber in between the pipes. Derek Armstrong deflected an Alexander Frolov shot literally right in front of Weekes and that was the only time he was beat. Granted, there were a couple chances where the Kings really should have had it, but Weekes said no. Save for one point where Alexander Frolov gets the puck all alone in the slot, a defensive gaffe if there was one. What did Weekes do, being left out to dry? Nothing. Frolov shot it wide. Nevertheless, Weekes was massive in this game and a big reason why the Devils won so big.
This isn't to say the defense was only for show. They were very solid with the breakouts and the penalty killing was sublime. The Devils got a little too penalty happy in the second period - seriously, a too many men call on a power play? LAME - but the penalty killers came through along with Weekes. Despite the Kings bringing the house, the Devils held firm and forced them to really work for those shots. Shots that Weekes stopped. Moreover, they didn't crumble from the hard-hitting Kings lineup. This was a very physical game, the Kings outhit the Devils 36 to 19 and I believe that to be pretty close to the truth. Los Angeles, especially Dustin Brown (7 hits!), just kept lowering the boom. Did it become a factor? Not tonight. Will it tomorrow? It might.
So while the Kings put 35 on Weekes and the Devils only got 29 on Quick, the Devils had the better shots. The penalty killers were great, but the power play was even better. Wow. I think a big reason why there is such a shot disparity is because the Devils didn't get a lot of shots over their 7 power plays. On two of them, they literally scored right away! The first one came from a Jamie Langenbrunner slapshot tipped by Travis Zajac, who won the faceoff to Patrik Elias who fed Jamie. The second one came from Patrik Elias firing a rocket right off of a Zajac faceoff win. Two goals, 9 seconds of power play time. Wonderful. The third one, and it was the game's backbreaker, was Brian Rolston taking a slapshot on a power play in the third period and finding the back of the net. Three power play goals in one game is rare for the Devils and absolutely fantastic.
And in that, I segue into my second "best player on the ice." Zajac was a monster tonight. He tips the Langenbrunner shot to beat Quick after winning the faceoff in the zone. He wins another faceoff that went right into a goal. Not much later than the Elias goal, Zach Parise scored his 100th goal of his career on a beautiful move. He got alone with Quick, faked the forehand, and roofed it on the backhand. Why mention this in a paragraph about Zajac? Well, Parise has that space because Zajac draws the defender away from the slot enough for Zach to slide in and work his magic. That's an unofficial assist right there. Later in the game, Zach Parise got a pass up to Zajac, who then got lit up by Matt Greene. Zajac picks up the puck, recognizes all the space, and just rushes like mad up ice. He notices Langenbrunner beyond the defender, makes a last-second pass to Langenbrunner who just slid it in for the fifth Devils goal. 12 faceoff wins, 1 goal, 2 assists, a big role in 4 of the Devils' 5 goals, and he battled hard all night. Great night for Zajac.
And it wasn't just Zajac. It seemed like every Devil had a good night. Perhaps the signing of Brendan Shanahan has them wondering whether they will be moved or sitting any time soon and sparked a fire among the team. Perhaps that they were unhappy with how they are playing as of late and decided to rebound from the 4-0 los to Atlanta. Perhaps they realized that the organization has been 3-0-2 in their last 5 games in LA and decided to keep up the pace. Perhaps they were just looking good, feeling good, and enjoyed their hockey. Whatever the reason, this was a complete performance that has eluded the team in the past 2 weeks.
There remains two immediate questions. The first has to do with what's next. After a rough game in LA, the Devils get to play Anaheim in less than 24 hours. Another physical team and they are angry about losing to their hated rivals in LA, their last game. Can the Devils have enough in the proverbial tank to perform well tomorrow night? The second is whether tonight's performance was a fluke or not. Has it broken the recent trend of sloppy-to-awful hockey by the Devils, or will the Devils revert for one reason or another?
We will know the answer to both tomorrow. In the meantime, there's a lot to be happy about with respect to this game - so let's enjoy it while we can!