After tonight, it will officially bring the first half of the season to a close. Will the Devils break their struggles with a strong performance tonight? Will the Kings, heartened by their victory over their rivals Anaheim, take the points? Will a third option occur? Hopefully, hopefully not, and maybe - those are my choices.
Anyway, here's what you need to know about the Kings. They are stingy. Based on shots allowed per game, the best defense is not in Detroit, or San Jose, but in LA. They have only allowed an average of 26.3 shots per game. That's just excellent, especially with a rookie taking on serious minutes on the blueline: Drew Doughty has been a revelation, leading the team in minutes per game with 23:54. He may not have the points, but he's clearly one of the best rookies this season. You really can't ask for a better results from a blueline.
Their goaltending isn't bad either. While you may not know the names Erik Ersberg or Jon Quick, they have combined for LA to have allowed only 2.62 goals against per game on average - eighth lowest in the league. That's only slightly below the 2.58 goals against per game average the Devils put up with Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes. I'm not sure who you'll see in net tonight for the Kings. But one thing is for sure, the Kings are great in their own end.
Only problem is, they aren't very good at scoring goals. They have young talent up at forward in Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, Patrick O'Sullivan, and Dustin Brown. They got moves. They got hands. They got, well, sticks. Yet, the team only puts up 2.5 goals scored per game on average. That should help explain why they are only 17-17-6. Not that the Devils should expect anything based on the numbers. They played the Thrashers on Thursday, statistically one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and they got blown up on the wrong side of 4-0.-0. For all you and I know, the Kings will be absolutely lethal on offense. After all, they must be feeling real good getting a 4-3 win in Anaheim. The recap even describes LA having a balanced attack. And they attack physically too, officially they are currently one of two teams to have recorded 1,000 hits this season right now based on what Hockey Analysis has compiled. With the Devils having played in some physical games recently, it could very well be adding to the current mess of the Devils' performance. Generally the Devils aren't hitting machines (though they get results regardless of it all), but going up a physically inclined Kings (and Ducks tomorrow) means that they shouldn't expect any less hitting anytime soon.
OK, but the Devils can't really do much about how good the Kings feel or how they will hit. They can, however, can do much about how they will play. And the one thing I really noticed over the last two games has been a severe drop in confidence. When things don't go right in terms of puck possession or making simple passes, players feel worse for it and it shows. Sometimes it's frustration. Sometimes it's, well, playing worse. Sometimes it's indifference. Basically, what I think the team needs to do is to simplify their game. They don't need to fire through 4 people from the point on a power play or try cross-ice passes or drop passes to unaware Devils or all kinds of in-change line changes to where you have something like Elias-Madden-Clarkson thrown out there in the hopes to get something going. Just simple, coordinated hockey to build that confidence. If they can start there, it would be an improvement over the last two games.
As for tonight's game, Chere has noted from today's morning skate that the last two lines have been mixed up a bit (switch Rolston and Pandolfo) and Kevin Weekes may be the starter tonight. Chere also had an article in today's Star Ledger indicating that Zach Parise wants 50 goals. Given that he didn't do much on Thursday, hopefully he will be ready to get back on the goal scoring pace tonight. Tonight will also be a milestone: it's Brian Rolston's 1,000th NHL game - maybe he'll have some extra jump in his step, or maybe not. Regardless, what I want is just some simple, fundamental hockey that the Devils can use to get themselves playing more confident and successful hockey. It won't be an easy game tonight being on the road against a defensive stalwart like the Kings. A win over them would really get things going and start off this road trip right.
Feel free to leave a comment before, during, and after the game. It's going to be a late one for those of you like me who are on the East coast. I'll probably pop in for some comments, so let's make it a discussion. Let's also tell Rudy at Battle of California that Staten Island and Long Island are not parts of New Jersey, too. Keep it clean, keep it relevant, and keep it Jersey.