EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Rookie goalie Craig Billington of the New Jersey Devils said he used to idolize King goalie Rogie Vachon.
Vachon, now the Kings' general manager, was in the press box when Billington, 19, started his first National Hockey League game against the struggling Kings Saturday night at the Meadowlands Arena.
Billington shut out the Kings in the first period and made 23 saves to lead the Devils to a 5-2 win in front of 8,971 fans.
"I had butterflies, but they went away at the end of the game," Billington said. "I wasn't thinking about a shutout, all I was thinking was survival.
"How am I going to celebrate? I'm going to go back to my hotel room and go to sleep."
The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Devils (4-4). The Kings, meanwhile, lost their fifth straight and fell to 1-8.
Vachon said that a major shake-up may be in the works.
There have been reports that Vachon is trying to trade for Devils' captain Mel Bridgeman. The Kings could probably use a checking center like Bridgeman to improve their defense, which has allowed 51 goals in its first 10 games.
"We aren't ready to panic yet, but it's getting close," Vachon said. "Bridgeman's name has come up, but I don't think one guy will help us. The whole team hasn't played well.
"It's been tough on us. We felt we had the team rolling last year and we felt we'd be even better. I've been disappointed so far in the veterans who haven't played to their potential."
Vachon said he will take a trip to New Haven, Conn., tonight to watch the Kings' farm team there play a game. And he did not rule out the possibility that he might call up players from the minors to help the Kings.
The Kings could use it.
After being shut out Friday night by the New York Rangers, the Kings failed to score in the first period against Billington.
"He was very confident, and confidence is a wonderful thing in this business," King Coach Pat Quin said of Billington. "You have to have good goaltending and good people working in front, which is what they got tonight."
Billington played for the Canadian junior national team and was selected in the second round of the 1984 NHL draft by New Jersey. He spent last year playing junior hockey, but he impressed Devil Coach Doug Carpenter in training camp this season.
"I never saw him play junior, but I liked what I saw in camp," Carpenter said. "I had a gut feeling that he would win tonight. He's going to be a fine NHL goaltender.
Billington has also gotten a lot of help from veteran goalie Glenn (Chico) Resch of the Devils.
"When he came to camp, I knew he was here to take my job," Resch said. "But he's a hard-working kid and a good listener. We worked a lot together. His quickness makes up for any lack of experience.
"He's run his own goalie school for three years, so he knows how to play goal."
The Devils got goals from Kirk Muller, John MacLean and Dave Pichette in the first 8 minutes and 56 seconds to take immediate command of the game.
The Kings closed to within 3-2 in the second period when center Bernie Nicholls scored off a pass from right wing Phil Sykes and defenseman Garry Galley scored on a shot from the left point.
The Kings put some pressure on Billington in the third period, but he made a couple of good saves on shots by Anders Hakansson and shook off an injury when he was knocked into the net by Sykes.
"I just had the wind knocked out of me when I my chest was pinned against the goalpost," Billington said. "But I would have had to be unconscious or something to come out of the game."
The Devils added two goals in the third period to put it out of reach. The first came when defenseman Peter McNab scored off a pass from MacLean, who had stolen the puck from King defenseman Rick LaPointe.
The Kings pulled goalie Bob Janecyk for an extra skater with 2:09 left in the game, but the move backfired when New Jersey left wing Doug Sulliman scored an empty-net goal on a 45-foot shot with one minute left.
King Notes The Devils announced that defenseman Bob Hoffmeyer has retired to become a special assignment scout for the team. Hoffmeyer, 30, spent four years in the NHL, two with the Devils and two with the Philadelphia Flyers. Hoffmeyer had been sidelined this season with a knee injury suffered in a preseason game. . . . King General Manager Rogie Vachon said he has sent injured center Glen Currie back home to Montreal to recuperate from a back injury suffered on the first day of training camp. The Kings announced last week that Currie would be out six weeks with a herniated disc, but Vachon said it might be two months before Currie is able to play again. . . . The Kings play the New York Islanders Tuesday night at the Nassau Coliseum.