The Devils had just finished their morning skate Saturday at Amelie Arena in Tampa.
This was seven hours before they’d take the ice for their most lopsided defeat of the young season, a 4-1 loss to the Lightning in which Damon Severson would score the game’s opening goal, followed by four unanswered scores from the Eastern Conference title contenders from Florida’s Gulf Coast.
I chatted with Michael Cammalleri about the 10-0 loss that the Canadiens had suffered at the hands of the Blue Jackets one night earlier. Cammalleri played two-and-a-half seasons in Montreal from 2009-12 and understands what such a result means in that city. The culture is such in the city of Bleu, Blanc e Rouge that it would be the talk of the town for days. It was a diversion from the 800-pound gorilla in the room: That if Cammalleri had failed to score that night, it would mean starting the 2016-17 season with a 10-game goal scoring drought.
By his own admission, Cammalleri would have a subpar performance in Tampa. He’d finish the game with two shot attempts: One on goal and one that missed the net. His goalless drought was now 14 games, dating back to the final four games of last season before his year was cut short due to a right-hand injury. The game would extend the longest stretch of his NHL career without a goal.
The best coaches have a way of positively framing a negative stretch of games for a player. You’ve heard the catch phrases a thousand times: “Joe is still playing a solid two-way game” or “Frank continues to provide energy” or “Bob’s been getting his chances.” Truthfully, you can look at every NHL roster and identify two to three players who NEED to score goals not only to justify their place on a team, but to function on the ice in the proper state of mind. The 34-year-old Cammalleri is one such player. In his 14th NHL season, he is less than two years removed from leading New Jersey in that department with a 27-goal season, including eight game-winning goals.
The next night, Cammalleri notched the first natural hat trick of his career in a 4-1 victory at Carolina, marking the Devils’ largest margin of victory this season. It was the first natural hat trick for a Devil since Zach Parise in 2007. It was the signature breakout performance by a New Jersey player this season. If the Devils are to surprise prognosticators and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2012, Cammalleri’s health and production must be an integral part of that quest. He’s a proven commodity on a team with few players that fit that description. Sunday was an important first step.
KINKAID OPENS EYES WITH TERRIFIC OUTING VS. HURRICANES
Keith Kinkaid delivered an extraordinary performance in the Devils’ first road victory of the season at Carolina. Head coach John Hynes says that Kinkaid arrived in camp in the best shape of his career. His third-period pad save on Andrej Nestrasil stood out most in the win over the Hurricanes.
It was an explosive pad save that backed up the notion that this is a different Kinkaid in 2016-17, a goaltender at the age of 27 recognizing that it’s time to elevate his game. More than one teammate said the stop on Nestrasil was the type of save he might not have made a year ago.
Number one goaltender Cory Schneider started the back end of the home-and-home series two nights later, but it was interesting to hear Hynes say that the team even considered giving Kinkaid a second consecutive start. (He did not, and Schneider’s 31-save performance helped the Devils earn their second straight win).
- Cammalleri on Beau Bennett, who assisted on two of the left wing’s three goals at Carolina: “His compete level on the puck is evident.” Bennett was +3 in the win at Raleigh, and the line centered by Jacob Josefson has been effective in consecutive games.
- Hynes says the Devils have established their identity, and that it’s just a matter of being consistent with that identity. Wondering is his top three lines might stick for a while. Hall-Zajac-Parenteau, Zacha-Henrique-Palmieri, and Cammalleri-Josefson-Bennett have shown some chemistry.
- The kicker is that the fourth line of Kalinin-Fiddler-Lappin was their best in the victory over the Hurricanes Tuesday at the Rock.
- As of Election Day, Damon Severson was one of just four NHL defensemen leading his team in scoring.
- Parenteau and Hall scored impressive shootout goals versus the Canes.
- Parenteau’s shootout skills alone might be worth three points in the standings by season’s end, and after 12 games he was tied with Taylor Hall for the team goal-scoring lead.
- November and December are challenging months for Jersey’s Team, The Devils play 29 games, 19 of those on the road. A good barometer will be the turn of the calendar year: If the Devils are in a top-eight position after hosting the Capitals on New Year’s Eve afternoon at the Rock, they’ll have an excellent chance to make the playoffs with the most demanding portion of their schedule behind them.