The New Jersey Devils wrapped up the road portion of their six-game preseason slate Friday night at the Barclays Center against the host New York Islanders. The Devils fell 3-2 in a shootout (but this one doesn’t count!) one night after being trounced by the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0. New Jersey opened the preseason earlier in the week with their lone exhibition win, an exciting 5-4 victory over the New York Rangers. The Devils have three preseason games remaining on their schedule and all of them will take place at the Prudential Center in Newark. Heading into their home stretch, what are the Devils Top 5 positives?
1) Michael Ryder
It is no secret that Ryder is a streaky player. Last season, he had four goals in a dozen October games before burying one puck in 15 November contests. Then he got hot again, scoring 11 times in 19 games, before going 23 consecutive games without lighting the lamp. Thus far through three preseason battles, he has three goals and an assist. It is a great sign that Ryder is finding the net and creating plays, not to mention the fact he hasn’t looked this confident since December of last season. Hopefully for Ryder he doesn’t run out of goals before the season starts. Nonetheless, he looks focused and rejuvenated so far.
2) Patrik Elias-Dainius Zubrus-Martin Havlat
During the Devils run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, Elias and Zubrus were line mates with a different Czech, Petr Sykora. Elias had one of the best seasons in his career, finishing 2011-12 with 26 goals and a team-high 52 assists for 78 points. Along the way he became the franchise’s all time leader in points with a goal that was assisted by, who else, Sykora. Zubrus finished with 44 points, his best campaign since 2006-07 when he split the year with the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals.
Will playing alongside another Czech, who like Sykora is also on a one-year contract, spark chemistry and help New Jersey find the net again? If the preseason is any indication, the answer is a resounding “yes!” They played as a unit at even-strength as well as on the power-play against the Rangers and Islanders and in both games contributed to a power-play goal. Eric Gelinas scored against the Rangers with Elias and Havlat picking up the helpers. Against the Islanders, Havlat scored with Elias getting the secondary assist. They have showed signs of cohesiveness with nifty passes and during the Devils slow start in the first period against the Islanders gave the team their best chances to score. The Devils haven’t had a solid secondary scoring line since 2011-12. Now, quite possibly, they do.
3) Scott Gomez
If his performance against the Islanders is not an anomaly, then Gomez, one of three forwards along with Ruslan Fedotenko and Jordin Tootoo trying out for New Jersey, will be skating with the Devils the next time they visit the Flyers on October 9. He generated several high quality scoring chances, showed patience with the puck while waiting for a teammate to get open, and even fired three shots at the net, almost scoring late in the third. After not winning a face-off the previous night, Gomez won five draws in Brooklyn. He also forced a turnover in overtime. Showing a lot of poise and confidence, Gomez also settled down the youngsters by communicating with them on the bench. The Devils are famous for bringing back players that left via free agency or were traded and Gomez is acting like a player, on the ice and on the bench, who will be the next to return to the Garden State.
4) Reid Boucher
Boucher is determined to be on the NHL roster come Opening Night. Playing alongside Ryder and Adam Henrique, Boucher is showing why he is one of the organization’s most touted prospects. He played over 15 minutes at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers and finished with a goal and an assist. Before the fans even had a chance to sit in their seats, Boucher scored against goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (Henrique actually deflected the puck into the goal after the initial shot) and picked up an assist on Ryder’s second period goal with an NHL-caliber pass over the stick of defenseman Marc Staal. On Ryder’s first goal, Boucher started the play by fighting for the puck behind the Rangers net, battling with a pair of Rangers blue liners. He showed energy all night, led both teams with six shots on net, and didn’t look like a player that wants to be sent back to the AHL.
Boucher played with Gomez and Mike Sislo against the Flyers and, like the rest of the team, struggled. In a rough first period in which the Devils eventually fell behind 3-0 due to three power-play goals by Philadelphia, Boucher did register the team’s first shot on net.
Against the Islanders, and back with Ryder and Henrique, Boucher brought a lot of energy and although he didn’t pick up a point he created several opportunities to score. He played 20:32, tops among New Jersey forwards, and finished with one shot on net.
If for no other reason, the Devils may want to consider keeping Boucher in New Jersey for his ability to score in the shootout. He scored the Devils only goal in the post-overtime and game-deciding breakaway challenge. He was one of only four goal scorers in the shootout last season for Jersey’s Team.
5) Keith Kinkaid
The young man from Farmingville, New York is making a strong case for the back-up goalie position behind Cory Schneider. After taking over for starter Scott Clemmensen mid-way through the preseason opener, Kinkaid stopped 12 of 14 shots. He had virtually no chance at stopping either Rangers goal that he allowed. Chris Kreider skated in on the left wing and wristed a sharp shot past the goaltender. On their next goal the Devils suffered a massive defensive breakdown, leaving Jesper Fast all alone at the foot of the crease where he easily beat Kinkaid.
Keith Kinkaid stops Brian Strait with a fabulous save in overtime against the Islanders:
Kinkaid played the entire game at the Islanders, turning aside 25 of 27 shots including all five in overtime. After Ryan Pulock opened the scoring with a power-play goal in the first period for New York, Kinkaid played a big role in helping create his opponent’s second goal. He mishandled a dump-in that allowed Colin McDonald to bury a puck into a wide open net.
Then Kinkaid did what he needed to do most; he settled down at a time when he could have unraveled. In the process he made clutch saves at key moments. Late in the third, Islanders defenseman TJ Brennan, at the top of the slot, fired a shot that Kinkaid stopped. In overtime, Kinkaid made a spectacular save to preserve the tie. Brian Strait, coming in from the blue line, wristed the puck towards the net where Kinkaid popped it into the air with his glove. Just as the puck was about to settle on the goal line, Kinkaid reached with his glove behind him to cover it for a whistle.
Unfortunately, Kinkaid stopped just one of three shootout attempts. However, his stellar play and ability to recover from a pair of early goals in the contest will only help push the goaltender towards having a spot on the NHL roster come Opening Night.