Or rather… You wouldn’t recognize the Devils. The New Jersey Devils are off to their worst start in 27 years. I’d never seen their defense look as horrible as I did two days in a row here in southern California. I’ve only been a hockey fan since the late 80’s, so I’d never seen the Devils look this bad. In Anaheim, it was like the Devils and Ducks were playing themselves. Both teams had been built on their strong defense and neither team has much of a defense this season. If their offenses were more in tune, I would have expected a much higher scoring game.
When the Devils signed (and later re-signed) Kovalchuk, they were indicating a commitment to being a more offensive team than defensive, but they haven’t followed through on that and their defense is definitely lacking. They don’t have Scott Stevens or Scott Niedermayer right now. Their current defense isn’t the same. They’re not as difficult to figure out and they handle pucks very poorly in their own end. The Devils are currently ranked last in the NHL again, which is really surprising to me. I didn’t expect them to be as good as they were last year and I figured they’d probably just squeak into the playoffs, but if anyone had told me they’d only win ¼ of their first 12 games, I would have thought they were nuts.
The makeup of the Devils’ team has really changed this season. I was talking to someone Friday night, who said it was strange, since most of the players he saw on the ice didn’t make him think of the Devils. Perhaps that identity crisis ad not knowing if they’re going to be an offensive or defensive team is what’s causing their poor performance.
The Kings are currently number one in the NHL…. It’s definitely good to be a King this season. They’re 4-0-0 at home (one of two teams with a perfect record at home – St. Louis is 5-0-0 at home) and even won their first game back from a long road trip last night. Most people I talked to seemed to think the Kings would be too lifeless in their first game back to even beat the tired Devils (they’d played the night before in Anaheim) who’ve been at or near the bottom of the NHL. I thought they’d pick themselves up to beat the Devils because of honoring Mattias Norstrom before the game and having some of the former players (including fan favorite Ian Laperriere) back for that. Rob Blake’s reception was actuallybetter than most of us expected. I’d say he was cheered by about 75% of the fans and only booed by 25% – it was nice to see that he got a better reception than usual in Staples Center.
The player Kings fans were determined to boo was Ilya Kovalchuk (clearly). Fans may not know the whole story (Kovalchuk himself is probably the only person who really could), but they do know that Kovalchuk chose not to play in their city. Oddly enough, I think the fans should probably be thanking Kovalchuk for not taking the outrageous contract the Kings offered him. It was more than Lombardi wanted to offer Kovalchuk. Lombardi was protecting the Kings’ future and their ability to re-sign the important franchise players like Drew Doughty (who looked good and said he’s feeling okay – he just can’t get up to full speed and still feel okay and the Kings are being careful to make sure he’s fully healthy before his return). Just as the Penguins probably couldn’t have won the Stanley Cup in 2009 with Marian Hossa, signing Kovalchuk would have probably done much more harm than good to the LA Kings who are in first place without Kovalchuk as the Devils sit in last place with him.
The Kings were determined to win again at home, in spite of how the first game back from a long road trip usually goes. Jonathan Quick continued to look great and in control tonight. He’s currently 4th in the NHL for save percentage, which is definitely a huge leap from his performance last season.
The Kings’ next game is Thursday as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning led by Steven Stamkos the number one offensive player in the NHL.