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Devils hope to salvage finale of California trip at San Jose

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The New Jersey Devils are struggling to win, and the big culprit heading into Saturday’s clash with the San Jose Sharks is obvious to them: a lack of scoring.

As the Devils prepare to conclude a three-game road trip through California, they are sputtering along with just one win in five outings. A 3-2 overtime defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings on Friday was the second extra-time loss in that swoon.

The Devils have scored just 15 goals in their past seven games, and they were shut out Tuesday at Anaheim. The effort has been there, but the results have not.

“We competed hard,” coach Lindy Ruff said after the Los Angeles loss. “We’re having a little bit of a tough time scoring goals.”

Being without a couple of key players, Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton, has hindered the Devils, who have been skunked on their power play in four consecutive games, going 0-for-14 in that span.

One positive in Friday’s defeat was the play of goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who saw his first action after offseason heel surgery. Blackwood stopped 26 shots in an excellent performance.

“It was good to get back in there, get back in the action and work out the kinks,” Blackwood said. “It went pretty good overall, just a little bit of rust, a bit of sloppiness I’m trying to work out of my game, but as the game went on, I got better and better. I’m excited to keep going and keep pushing forward.”

New Jersey will face a Sharks team that is coming off a 5-3 loss to the visiting St. Louis Blues on Thursday and won’t know until shortly before puck drop who will be able to play.

For the last week, the Sharks have been decimated by a COVID-19 outbreak. Last Saturday saw seven players as well as coach Bob Boughner go on the league’s protocol list. Two returned to action, Andrew Cogliano and Jonathan Dahlen, but in turn forwards Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc joined Matt Nieto, Erik Karlsson, Jake Middleton, Radim Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

San Jose had eight rookies in the lineup against the Blues.

“It’s going to be like this for a little bit, so we’ve got to deal with it,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said. “The guys that have stepped in and played their first, second and third NHL games have played well. But as veterans, we can do a better job of protecting those guys.”

As well, the club decided to send 2021 first-round draft choice William Eklund back to Sweden. The 19-year-old forward played well in collecting four assists this season, but the move means next season will be the first year of Eklund’s three-year contract.

“This was one of the toughest decisions we have had to make,” San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said. “William’s tremendous skill and vision have been evident since his participation in our rookie tournament in September. …

“He has shown that he is going to be a special player in this league, but ultimately, we feel it is in the best interest of his long-term development to return to Sweden and continue to work on becoming the dominant player we know he can be.”

Eklund was disappointed, even though he knows the decision will be beneficial to him in the long run.

“I think I did what I could to stay here,” he said.

–Field Level Media

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