Trust in Process Leading to Devils’ Progress

In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko looks at Taylor Hall’s heroics, the battle in the Metropolitan Division and Keith Kinkaid’s play in goal in place of Cory Schneider.

MSGNetworks.com: Taylor Hall came to the Devils‘ rescue Thursday night, scoring the game-winning goal in the OT win over the Caps. How much comfort does it give you that the team has a big-money All-Star player like Hall to come up big in clutch situations?

Ken Daneyko: If you’re going to be a good team or an improved team, you need balance. But you also need for your top guys to be your top guys. Taylor has certainly been that all season long and he’s taken on a leadership role on the team.

It’s taken time for him to get settled in after the shock of the big trade last season, but you have to be impressed with how he’s taken command. He wants to be a difference maker and he wants to be a guy that’s part of the improvement of a team that’s trying to get to the playoffs.

Taylor Hall speaks with Deb Placey after scoring his game-winner in overtime to give the Devils a 4-3 win over the Caps.

MSGNetworks.com: Thanks to Hall, the Devils are now only four points behind the Caps for the lead in the Metropolitan Division. Where do you think the Devils fit in the divisional battle?

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Ken Daneyko: Everybody in the Metro is above .500 and they’re all good teams. You know that going in and you accept the challenge. You don’t dread and you know it’s going to be a tough schedule. But, they’ve won two important divisional games and it’s been a topsy-turvy kind of fight.

Thursday night was a good win because the Caps have given the Devils fits, not only this year, but for years. With the Devils being a much more improved and formidable team, you want to show that you’re going to continue to take steps. You have to beat top teams and the Caps are the top team in the division right now, and not just because they sit on top of the division.

It wasn’t easy by any means, even after it looked like the Devils played a complete game. They gave themselves a chance to win, which didn’t happen the last two times they played Washington. They get scored one late and surrendered a two-goal lead, and you’re thinking it doesn’t matter what they do, it’s tough to beat this team. But it was yet another step in the right direction and the Devils do what they did in overtime, led by Taylor Hall.

Some people might complain that they gave up the lead, but it wasn’t like they were playing badly. The Devils played one of their better games, but the Capitals are good. They came on strong and were able to get the equalizer later in the third period. It’s all a part of the process and coach [John] Hynes wants them to learn how to close games out. That was a fun game, though and it’s all always exciting to beat a team like Washington.

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MSGNetworks.com: One of the things you notice immediately about this Devils team is that they have a lot of character. Against the Caps, you saw a lot of it: Brian Boyle stepping in to fight Tom Wilson to defend Brian Gibbons and winning a tough a game after surrendering a two-goal lead. Is that something that develops over time or do you think this team had it from the start?

Ken Daneyko: Usually it happens over time, but this was addressed right at the start of training camp. That was something general manager Ray Shero and John Hynes looked to address right away. You better play for your teammates and play for the crest on your jersey. You can’t win if you don’t play like a team and a be a team. Of course, they needed more talent and obviously, they got that.

We talk about the Metro and the National Hockey League in general and how close it is. The game is so tight that the little intangibles are the things that swing games. The Devils aren’t an overly big, physical team, but that doesn’t matter.

As for the fight, it turned out to be a clean hit by Wilson, but I thought it was perfect timing. Players react. They don’t have the luxury of seeing what we see on TV and the replays. Boyle was reacting to a big hit on a smaller linemate and he stood up to a big physical player. It doesn’t matter if you win, lose or draw a fight, it’s more about sticking together.

It’s no coincidence that the Devils killed that penalty and then scored shortly after. You don’t mind killing those kinds of penalties. Those are the intangibles that I’m talking about and they happen for a reason. They killed that penalty for Brian after he got the instigator, and Miles Wood gets the goal right after. These things all go hand in hand.

MSGNetworks.com: Guys like Boyle have contributed to the good mix of youth and veterans on the team this year. Does it seem like it’s coming together at the right time?

Ken Daneyko: You need all different types of players to have a good team. Whether it’s speed or the ability to kill a penalty or be a good forechecker or a game breaker like Taylor Hall, you need a combination of it all. As a group, they’ve done a good job.

Before the recent game against the Islanders, Coach Hynes called out the team and demanded that they had to be better. They were waning from their defensive structure and responsibilities. That happens during an 82-game schedule with any team and any player. You’re not going to play 82 perfect ones! They knew they had to end their six-game winless streak quickly. They didn’t wallow in it and they were able to stop the bleeding.

That’s what’s good about this team, they don’t get too high or too low. They stay balanced and know that every game is different. Every game is going to be tougher as it goes along here. Who knows where it’s going to end up, but if they continue the process, they’ll be fine. They’ll continue to grow and be a better team for sure.

MSGNetworks.com: Finally, a big reason why the Devils ended their skid was the play of Keith Kinkaid, who’s stepped in for Cory Schneider the last two games. How much of a relief is it for Coach Hynes to have a reliable backup like Kinkaid?

Ken Daneyko: The bottom line in this league is that you need two goalies. There’s just so many elements involved that you have to have guys step up, whether it’s because of injury or in this case Cory being sick. It’s been trying at times for Keith because there have been some long periods with him not playing games, but that’s part of the job. He’s been able to step in and get the job done.

Steve Cangialosi, Bryce Salvador and Ken Daneyko take a closer look at Keith Kinkaid's 25-save performance in the Devils' 4-1 win over the Isles.

We all know there’s no goalie controversy here, Cory’s the No. 1 guy and they’re going to rely on Cory heavily. Both those guys are going to lean on each other and you need both guys to be good. It’s a friendly internal competition and it’s always good to see your counterpart have good performances. It gets you revved up. You support each other and that’s what this team has been able to do.

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The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.