The New Jersey Devils haven’t found much success in their visits to the Barclays Center. Dating back to its opening for hockey in the 2015-16 season, the Devils were winless in five meetings at Barclays and hadn’t beaten the rival New York Islanders on the road since March 2014. To make matters worse, the Devils entered Tuesday on a six-game losing streak facing an Islanders’ club that outscored its last two opponents by a 12-6 margin.
The strength of the division coupled with their recent skid made the task imperative to the Devils. With Cory Schneider sidelined due to an illness, Farmingville native Keith Kinkaid drew the assignment in goal, stopping 25 shots in a 4-1 victory over the Islanders. The win was the first for Kinkaid in seven career starts against the club. The Devils were able to take advantage of an Isles’ team fatigued from their dramatic overtime win in Montreal and moved into second place in the Metropolitan Division.
“Certain guys played to their strengths, and that’s what we need from our group to win a game,” Devils’ head coach John Hynes said. “We took it period by period, and I thought we got off to a good start, and in between the first and second periods, we talked about things that helped our guys have a strong focus level. One of our biggest challenges was how were we going to play the third period with a lead and how the little things matter.”
“It’s been a tough draw. They (the Devils) were off for a few days, and we played a hard couple of games and went to OT against a real fast team in Montreal,” Islanders’ head coach Doug Weight said. Guys got into bed around 3:30 AM, and it’s tough. Teams go through it. Jersey is a fast team, and I think we were mentally tired. Early on it was evident with some of our decisions and we didn’t do a good job of managing the game early.”
The Islanders opened the scoring quickly in Montreal on an Anthony Beauvilier goal 1:34 into the game and had a similar result on Tuesday, connecting on their first scoring chance. Anders Lee blocked a John Moore shot attempt and proceeded to beat Kinkaid on the breakaway at the 1:39 mark of the first period. The goal was Lee’s 26th of the season and the lone highlight on the evening for the Islanders. Smithtown’s Kyle Palmieri scored in the power play towards the latter stages of the period to even the score after 20 minutes.
The momentum for the Devils became the turning point in a second period, as they lit the lamp on three separate occasions. After Stefan Noesen separated Nick Leddy from a puck in the corner, Damon Severson beat Isles’ goaltender Jaroslav Halak above his mask for the first of two goals. Severson’s second goal followed two minutes later, this time roofing a shot from the point. Taylor Hall concluded the onslaught, taking advantage of a John Tavares turnover and scoring on an odd-man rush.
“We have got to realize that we have to be a lot better than we were the last two games,” Tavares said. “Starting with myself, I have to be a lot better in certain areas and make some smarter plays at times and picking and choosing when to make plays. “They (the Devils) skated hard and are playing with a lot of confidence.”
In Monday’s 5-4 overtime win in Montreal, the Canadiens outshot the Isles 56-24, while the Devils held a 42-26 advantage in the shot department in Tuesday’s victory. Opponents held the edge in shots in each of the last seven games against the Isles, putting added pressure on their defense and goaltending. While the high risk, high reward mentality breeds an excitable brand of hockey, the Isles remain cognizant that better play in their own zone will lead to more sustainable results.
“It’s tough to win games and sustain the kind of attack we had the last two nights,” Lee said. “Two nights in a row, we were getting swarmed, and we escaped one last night, but tonight it wasn’t in the cards to be able to pull something off like that again. It wasn’t our best game on a back-to-back, and we have to be more clean with the puck.”
An added challenge facing the Islanders in recent games are injuries. On Tuesday against the Devils, the Isles were without the services of Andrew Ladd, Casey Cizikas, Josh Bailey, and Calvin de Haan. The injuries begin testing the depth of the roster while youngsters assume expanded roles and look to adapt to the rigors and nuances of the NHL schedule. A win over the Devils would have propelled the Isles into third place in the Metropolitan Division, but they now find themselves in need of a boost from their reinforcements in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break.
“The fact is we now have seven or eight guys out of the lineup,” Weight said. “It’s tough. I’m seeing good effort and some good hockey players when you talk mid to late January and the way these games are played and have them tackle big minutes. I think it’s tough when you deal with a number of guys having to make those contributions. We have to get some rest and recoup.”