With a second West Coast trip on the docket next week, the Devils’ games tomorrow and Saturday at the Rock loom large toward keeping up the momentum they’ve built in taking seven out of a possible eight points in their last four games, culminating in a huge 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. This weekend’s games are also emotionally charged, for different reasons. Tomorrow night the Devils host the Kings in the teams’ first matchup since Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals (though their last meeting at the Rock was a bit more successful for the Devils – see above picture), albeit without goaltenders Martin Brodeur or Jonathan Quick – on the shelf for the next few weeks due to injury. Ironically far more players remain from the Kings’ 2012 team than ours, so getting a pound of flesh will probably be more on the mind of the fans than anything else. Still, it’s a huge game that could get the Devils back to NHL .500, which would be a bit of an accomplishment after their 0-4-3 start. Not to mention the Devils would have their first three-game winning streak since early last season.
Our early-season injury merry-go-round is continuing with Patrik Elias (back spasms) and Stephen Gionta (sprained ankle) both seemingly on their way back into the lineup this weekend, while Anton Volchenkov will miss the next few games due to a lower-body injury (pulled leg muscle) sustained early in Tuesday’s victory over the Rangers. Most likely Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson will be the scratches if both forwards return, while Mark Fayne will take the place of the injured Volchenkov. Even with Elias and Gionta back though, the Devils will ice just eleven of the eighteen skaters that took the ice in Game 6 a year and a half ago, with some key pieces missing. Ironically center Andrei Loiktionov was on the Kings that year, but contreversially didn’t get a Stanley Cup ring despite a fair number of games played during the season and was traded out of LA last season. He’ll have something to prove against his former team obviously.
Our lineup will probably look something like this for the weekend:
F: Zubrus-Zajac-Jagr, Brunner-Elias-Ryder, Henrique-Loiktionov-Bernier, Carter-Gionta-Janssen
D: Greene-Zidlicky, Harrold-Fayne, Gelinas-Larsson
Saturday’s game against the Penguins is bigger in terms of them being a division rival so it’s a four-point game in the standings, which a suddenly hot Brodeur will be in the net for. After appearing to grease the skids for Cory Schnieder to take over the #1 role in net, Marty’s done everything he can to delay the transition longer by going 5-1 in his last six games with just seven goals allowed during that stretch, which included back-to-back shutouts against the Flyers and Predators. Pittsburgh’s three-game losing streak has suddenly put the Metro lead back up for grabs, as the Pens maintain just a one-point lead over the rival Caps with everyone else closing in as the Devils, Rangers and Flyers among others have all picked it up after slow starts.
While we haven’t played the Kings since the spring of 2012, we did play the Penguins in our season opener this year and got blanked 3-0 with Schnieder in net. Amazingly our season series ends on New Year’s Eve as we play Pittsburgh two more times in December (thank the new NHL ‘balanced’ schedule for that). I’m not really wrapped up in the division standings at this point though, even though we’ll likely have to finish in the top three to make the postseason with the way the divisions are shaping up now. It’s still early though, right now I just want to see the Devils stay afloat until November and hopefully carry the momentum of this most recent 6-3-2 stretch through the last brutal part of their early-season schedule.