Schott: Devils With Something To Prove

(Sergey Kalinin (51) celebrates one of his two goals on Thursday night with Bobby Farnham – @NJDevils)

As the Devils wind down their season, now is the time for players to validate what they did this season and prove to Head Coach John Hynes that they deserve to be part of the plans moving forward.

Even though the Devils lost 4-2 to Tampa Bay, there were some positives to take away, as they played better than they did in Tuesday’s dispiriting loss to Buffalo.

The biggest takeaway was that three players who have been bright spots all season, goaltender Keith Kinkaid, center Sergey Kalinin, and forward Bobby Farnham, had big games on Thursday night.

Kinkaid did a fine job as Cory Schneider’s backup throughout the season, notching some big wins, including a shutout of the Los Angeles Kings on February 14.

When Schneider went down with an injury in March, Kinkaid was made the starter, and after an initially good start, had a tough week, in which he allowed 18 goals in three games. That sent him to the bench and the Devils brought up Scott Wedgewood from Albany to take his place. Wedgewood played four games, and he had an incredible week, including a shutout over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kinkaid came back on Tuesday, March 29 and had a big night against the Boston Bruins, as he made 39 saves in the 2-1 Devils win that kept them alive in the playoff hunt.

In the 4-2 Devils loss on Thursday night, Kinkaid had a solid game, as he made 18 saves. He will not play the finale on Saturday night against Toronto, so he will finish the season with a record of 9-9-1 with a 2.79 goals against average.

Devils Head Coach John Hynes said of Kinkaid, “I thought he payed well. He gave us a chance to be able to win the game, and I think that’s what you can ask of your goaltender. Good performance by him.”

Hynes said of Kinkaid’s season and what he saw from him down the stretch, “I thought it was a great growing experience for Keith. You know, I think in the beginning of the year, he was a little bit upset at times he didn’t get as much playing time, and he had to work through that. And then when he wound up getting his opportunity to be a starter, I think it was different to be the starter with Cory (Schneider) not there, he’s not coming in the next game, he’s not on the bench, we need him to play every night. I think it was a great growing experience for him just to understand the pressure and what it’s like to be that guy with no one coming in to help you, where the team needs you to perform, so I think he learned a lot there. Rebounded well – you know, he got pushed again when (Scott) Wedgewood came up, and he looked like his game is back, and I think it’s going to be a great growing experience going forward.”

Kalinin had a big game Thursday night, as he scored two goals, his first since he had a big one against the Rangers on February 23.

Kalinin’s first goal came 7:16 into the second period, and his second came 9:23 into the third, when he crashed the net from the right side and found an opening past Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop.

Kalinin, 25, is making his case to play for Russia in the World Championships, held May 6 to 22 in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Kalinin said of that, “Oh, yeah. Sure, it’s important. Especially because the world championships are in Russia. I will be excited if I can play there.”

On his goals, Kalinin said, “It’s good to score goals every time, but when the team loses, it’s not so great. And we lost, four games straight now. We have to win the last game of the season.” (Saturday vs. Toronto)

Kalinin said of his first season in the NHL, “It’s good experience for me. It was tough. Not only physically but tough mentally. More mentally because everything is new. But at the end of the season I feel better.”

Hynes said of Kalinin, “It looks like (a future) with some upside. He’s a big strong kid. We think he’s adapted well to the North American game. He’s still a little bit of an enigma in the sense of what is his defining identity going to be as a player. But he has eom size and some hockey sense. He competes well and we think he’s had a pretty good first year here in the NHL. Now it’s going to be what is the next step? Is it a penalty-killer, a power play guy? Is there more offense there? I think that’s to be determined.

Farnham had an assist on Kalinin’s second goal, playing well on that line, which also included Stephen Gionta, who had two assists.

As important to the Devils was the fact that Farnham played with the aggression that the team wants to see and earned him the nickname “Wild Thing” (complete with song like in “Major League”) back from his great run in January. He racked up plenty of hits and got into a fight with Michael Blunden halfway through of the first period to try to jumpstart the Devils.

Hynes said of Farnham making things happen, “I think when you look at the situation with (Devils forward Joseph) Blandisi, when he wound up getting in the fight there with (Mike) Blunden, I think he brings that element. Even on Kalinin’s second goal, he dumped the puck in, he won the battle, put the pressure on (Tampa Bay goalie Ben) Bishop to force the turnover, so he does a lot of those things, and that’s what he brings. He brings an extreme competitiveness to the game most of the time, his speed is a real factor, and I think you’ve seen over the course of the year that he has some skill, too. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to pick him up was for that positive energy and the type of game that he plays.”

Hynes said of Farnham being one of the Devils’ bright spots, “You know, I think there were a lot of bright spots on the team this year. I think there’s a ton of positive that’s going on in the organization, a ton of positive that’s going on with our team, and particular players. I think Bobby made good on his opportunity that he got when we picked him up on waivers. I think if you look throughout the team, we’ve had multiple guys that have had career years. So far, I think if you look at the way the team’s come together and the direction we want to go, we’re right there. We definitely have to get better in many facets, but I think there’s a positive momentum that we need to continue to build on throughout the summer and into next year.”

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