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Five observations from New Jersey vs Carolina:
1. 5v5 struggles continued
The Devils have had an extremely tough time generating offense at 5v5 without Taylor Hall. Taking on a rested, and desperate, Hurricanes team that consistently dominates during that game state, there was no reason to believe things would get any better on Sunday. And they didn't.
The Devils, who at one point went the majority of a period without recording a shot, mustered up just 20 attempts and eight 'Grade B' scoring chances in nearly 40 minutes of 5v5 play. Both totals, unsurprisingly, were season lows.
Somehow, the Devils out-scored the Hurricanes, 2-1, at 5v5 but they were obviously quite lucky to do so. I mean, it's tough to expect positive results when you control 32% of the attempts and 33% of the high-danger looks.
This is normally a game where you happily take the points and run. Given the circumstances, though, they probably do more harm than good.
2. Keith Kinkaid stepped up
Ray Shero had to be thrilled with what he saw from the pending UFA netminder on Sunday afternoon.
The Hurricanes tested Kinkaid early and often while piling up 35 shots and 26 chances (15 high-danger). Kinkaid looked very good while turning all but two of them aside. He made several athletic saves on the likes of Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho in tight and never lost focus throughout the game. That's very important because there were a few *really* bad turnovers in the defensive zone where the Devils put the puck on a platter for the Hurricanes in a dangerous scoring area. Kinkaid was consistently quick to react, get set, and make the stop.
It has not been a good year for Kinkaid but the odd performance like that will likely be enough to get a GM to bite and hand the Devils a draft pick to land Kinkaid's services for the stretch run.
3. Marcus Johansson stood out
I thought he was clearly the team's best skater vs the Hurricanes, particularly at 5v5. He scored both goals – one on the rebound, one on the rush – accounted for three of eight chances, five of 13 shots, and led Devils forwards in Corsi For%. Seemingly anything positive that happened, Johansson was in the middle of.
I've pointed out time and time again his chance generation is reaching new heights this season so it's nice to see him finally getting rewarded for his efforts. He's picking a good time to heat up, although I certainly would have no problem with the Devils trying to re-sign him. Depending on the offers available, I might actually prefer that.
4. Will Butcher struggled
Butcher was given more 5v5 ice than any other player on the Devils. Unfortunately, he didn't make the most of it. Be it partnered with Ben Lovejoy or Ryan Murphy, he consistently spent the vast majority of his shifts chasing play in the defensive zone. There were bobbled pucks, missed outlets, lost battles, and pretty much anything else you could think of that resulted in extra, and lengthy, possessions for the Hurricanes. Butcher finished with a 11.11 CF% (2 CF, 16 CA) and the Devils did not record a single chance in the 14:22 he was on the ice for at 5v5.
5. The Kurtis Gabriel talk
I have no problem with the Devils rostering, and playing, Gabriel right now. Maybe he is a great guy, hard worker, and the kind of person you want in the locker room. Maybe the Devils want someone like him around to stick up for teammates if necessary. I'm not going to argue any of that. A case could be made that has more value than actual on-ice performance given where the Devils are at. But let's not pretend he is playing well and doing things that help lead to success, or that he should be on the team when the games matter again in October. Through six games, the Devils have controlled just 33.87% of the shot attempts with him on the ice. He's not a good skater, the puck skills aren't there, and the Devils generate fewer shots/chances per 60 with him than any other player on the roster. Beyond a couple loud hits per game, which haven't resulted in a key player missing a couple shifts, a turnover that led to a goal, etc., he really hasn't done anything that could be considered a positive.
I like physicality and edge as much as the next guy – Micheal Ferland and Matthew Tkachuk are two of my absolute favorites – but there have to be other attributes that come with it.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com.
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