New Jersey Devils Take On The State Of California

Sami Vatanen #45 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Sami Vatanen #45 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

This is the type of the road trip that will not only test the New Jersey Devils hockey club, but the fans of the team as well. The Devils have struggled mightily on the road this season, and they have played a large portion of their recent games away from the Prudential Center, so it appears as if the team is on a downward spiral. These are also late starts for fans watching on the east coast and in the midwest alike. The true fans show up on nights like these.

The California road trip has been one of the most daunting road trips that teams go on over the last decade. The Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks have all played in the Western Conference Finals or beyond at least once in the last five seasons. They have all seen stretches of being the elite of the elite.

The Devils begin Thursday night in Los Angeles. The Kings have had the most success of the three in that span winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. That first one was against the Devils, defeating them in six games. The 2018-19 Kings, however, have struggled. They are currently in the basement of the entire National Hockey League with 21 points.

The Kings’ struggles should not mean that anyone overlooks them. They still have one of the best overall defenseman in the NHL in Drew Doughty. Devils superstar Taylor Hall figures to see a lot of him throughout this matchup. They also have his fellow Hart Trophy nominee in Anze Kopitar as one of the premier centers in the league, and an elite goalie in Jonathan Quick who can make a difference anytime he gets the start. The Devils should be able to match the Kings as both of them have had their struggles but both ice talented players.

On Sunday, the Devils travel a few miles to Anaheim to visit the Ducks. The Ducks are the most intriguing team of the group because nobody is really sure what they are. The standings say that they are the second best team in the Pacific division, only trailing the Calgary Flames by one point. They also have the worst goal differential of the teams in the top 16 in the league standings with -11.

They rank 30th out of 31 in shots against, meaning their 35.4 shots against per game are the second most of any team in the league. The fact that this is true and they are where they are in the standings means one thing, their goalie John Gibson has been awesome.

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He has a .926 save percentage, which ranks fourth among the every day starters in the NHL. The Devils will likely generate chances against the Ducks, but beating John Gibson will be no easy task.

On Monday, the Devils will play the second half of a back to back against the San Jose Sharks. On paper, the Sharks are the best team of the three by far and are one of the elite teams in the entire NHL. The made the biggest trade of the offseason, when they added superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson to their already loaded defense led by fellow superstar Brent Burns.

Karlsson and the Sharks got off to a somewhat slow start, but they are really finding their stride. The Devils actually played the Sharks in Newark earlier in the season, and caught them during their slow start defeating them 3-2. I expect that this game will go very different, I’m not saying that the Devils have no chance to win, but they should absolutely expect a much better San Jose team this time around.

All in all the California road trip might not be nearly as tough as it once was, the Sharks are a true contender but the Ducks come off as a pretender and the Kings don’t look like a playoff team anymore, but that doesn’t mean they’re still not very talented and can win on any night. The Devils will need their stars to shine and good goaltending to come out of this trip with something worth being proud of.

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Last season the Devils defeated the Kings on this trip but lost to San Jose and Anaheim. The difference is those two losses were the only two losses on a six game road trip that consisted of six games with California sandwiched in there. Hopefully they can use this trip to gain some steam and get rolling before the holidays.