Flames bring 6-game win streak to New Jersey
The Calgary Flames are finding their form on defense, perhaps in time to mount a serious run at the Stanley Cup.
The New Jersey Devils won't be raising any trophies this spring, but they will spend the remainder of a rebuilding season finding out whether they have the goalies to anchor a playoff-caliber defense in the future.
A pair of teams coming off stout defensive efforts will square off Wednesday night when the Devils host the Flames in Newark, N.J.
The red-hot Flames, who have won six straight, will be playing the second game of a back-to-back set after beating the host New York Islanders 3-1 on Tuesday night in Uniondale, N.Y. The Devils were off Tuesday after edging the visiting Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on Monday night.
The win over the Islanders represented the latest impressive defensive effort by the Western Conference-leading Flames, who lead the San Jose Sharks by five points in the race for the Pacific Division crown and the top seed in the West.
The Flames have allowed one goal in each of the last three games and two goals or fewer in five straight games. Immediately prior to the winning streak, Calgary endured a 1-4-1 stretch in which it gave up four or more goals four times.
"I just think we're obviously finding ways to win close games, but we're doing it the right way," Flames goalie Mike Smith said after he earned the victory against the Islanders by making 26 saves. "I think we've played real solid defensively -- I don't know how many (games) it's been now, but we're getting rewarded because of it."
The Devils have yet to discover that defensive consistency. New Jersey, which has surrendered the fourth-most goals in the NHL, has won four of its past six games. The Devils allowed one goal or none in three of the wins but at least four goals in both of the losses.
The best defensive efforts by the Devils generally have coincided with the games in which Cory Schneider has appeared in net. Schneider went almost 14 months between regular-season victories before coming off the bench and earning the win by stopping all 15 shots he faced Feb. 15, when New Jersey stormed back from a three-goal, second-period deficit to edge the Minnesota Wild 5-4 in overtime.
Schneider is 3-1-0 in his past four starts, a stretch in which he has recorded one shutout and allowed more than one goal just once. The Devils felt comfortable enough with the progress shown by Schneider -- who battled hip and abdominal injuries during his regular-season win drought -- to trade Keith Kinkaid to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday and recall rookie Mackenzie Blackwood to serve as Schneider's backup.
Blackwood went 6-4-0 with a pair of shutouts during Schneider's absence earlier this year. The last 5 1/2 weeks of the season will serve as a chance for the Devils to find out if they have their goaltending in place for 2019-20 and beyond.
"If Cory continues to build his game the way that he's building it and getting himself back into form, that's a real big step for him and for us," Devils coach John Hynes said Monday night. "And I think the opportunity now that we have opened the door for Mackenzie to come in and be a full-time National Hockey League player for the rest of the season and get his opportunities to play.
"You look at our schedule down the stretch, we have some pretty big-time teams, pretty tough teams, pretty difficult teams to play against, and both guys are going to get an opportunity to play."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 27, 2019