March 28, 2015

Salary cap flexibility played a role in the Anaheim Ducks trading Kyle Palmieri during June's NHL draft. The New Jersey Devils were more than happy to bring the forward back to the Garden State.

Anaheim might be regretting that move as it sits last in the league by a wide margin in goals heading into its first matchup with New Jersey since that deal Saturday night.

Palmieri had 43 goals and 46 assists in 198 regular-season games for the Ducks after they selected him with the No. 26 overall pick in 2009. He tied a career high with 14 goals in just 57 contests in 2014-15 but is scheduled to become a restricted free agent after this season.

With other key Anaheim players set to hit the free-agent market next summer, general manager Bob Murray was forced to deal Palmieri, who's from Montvale, New Jersey, for a pair of draft picks.

"The problem when your guys are drafted very well and you get a bunch of good young players, all of a sudden they accumulate and you can't sign them all the same," Murray told the NHL's official website in June.

"After (Palmieri) gets 20 goals next year, which I think he will, then I'd really be in trouble. So this is just being proactive to stay ahead of the curve, get something for him before that happens and then he's really tough to move at that point."

Murray was right, as Palmieri is on pace to score way more than 20 goals. He's tied with Adam Henrique for the team lead with 13, scoring six times and adding three assists in the last 10 games for New Jersey (16-12-4).

Palmieri assisted on Sergey Kalinin's power-play goal as the Devils lost for the second time in three games Thursday, 5-1 to Florida. He leads New Jersey with career bests of five goals and 12 points on the power play.

''Kyle's been a real big piece of the puzzle for us this year,'' coach John Hynes said after Friday's practice. ''He's come in and he's been a real strong worker. He's been very competitive on the puck and he's gotten some good opportunities that's he earned to play in our top six and get some quality power-play time.''

Anaheim (11-14-5) hasn't had many good games just seven months removed from losing to Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the Western Conference finals after holding a 3-2 lead in the series.

The Ducks are last in the NHL with 55 goals - the next-closest team has 67 - are tied with Toronto and Columbus for the fewest points in the league (27) and are 3-9-1 as the visitor for the fewest road wins in the NHL.

''We don't have enough hunger, we don't have enough drive,'' captain Ryan Getzlaf said.

Anaheim opened a four-game trip through New York and New Jersey with a 3-0 loss to Buffalo on Thursday. The Ducks have been outscored 12-2 in dropping three in a row away from home.

''Quite frankly, when your best players aren't your best players you're not going to win the game,'' coach Bruce Boudreau said. ''And that's the bottom line. And on a too consistent basis, our best players aren't our best players.''

The Ducks have won three straight in the series after an 0-2-2 stretch.

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