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Game 3 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Los Angeles Kings

Raise your hand if you're glad you're not a King (and if you could be given a tough match-up tonight).  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Raise your hand if you're glad you're not a King (and if you could be given a tough match-up tonight). (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-1-0) vs. the Los Angeles Kings (1-1-0)

The Last Devils Game: Their second game of the season was far and away better than their first. The Devils had their hustling skates on, they went to work right away, and moved the puck with more success against the Hurricanes.  Discipline and power play issues aside, the Devils did well. They beat the Canes 4-2 to get their first win (and at home) of the season.  Here's my recap of the game.

The Last Kings Game:  LA was in Europe to play their first two games of the season.  Last Saturday, they took on the Buffalo Sabres in Berlin, Germany.   While the locals showed up, the Kings really didn't as they entered the second period down 3-1.  The Sabres added one more, though the Kings did pull another goal back to only lose 4-2.  

The Goal:  Resist the Kings' top two lines.  That sounds a bit obtuse, so let me explain a little. The Kings have two very good forward lines on paper. Their top two centers, Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, are excellent players and they're supported well by Simon Gagne, Dustin Brown, and Justin WilliamsPer Rich Hammond's report at LA Kings Insider, Dustin Penner is healthy and can give him a boost.  He will likely be slotted alongside Richards and Brown. That's a lot of offensive talent for any team to go up against. 

As we've seen from Philly in recent seasons, strong forward depth can easily creates match-up problems for the other team.  This is true for the Devils on paper.  The Devils' top line features Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, and Petr Sykora.  Parise and Elias alone can handle tough minutes while driving the play.   I'm confident they can do it against one of those two (hopefully the Richards line).   The Devils' second line consists of Ilya Kovalchuk, Jacob Josefson, and Nick Palmieri. While they did well on Monday, they aren't exactly inspiring confidence when it comes to tough matchups or defense.  I think they are going to have to have a big night to avoid getting steamrolled in the possession game.  The whole defense (Adam Larsson, this is what we call 'a test') will need to be on point.  In general, the Devils need to be ready for that scary six-pack of skaters.  Quelling both lines would go a long way towards obtaining victory this evening.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game, so please continue reading after the jump to find out what those are.  For a Kings' perspective, your choices are Jewels From The Crown (more serious, less profane) and Battle of California (less serious, more profane).

The New Jersey Devils are expected to only make a few changes from their winning line up on Monday.  The one guaranteed change is in net.  According to Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice on Wednesday, Martin Brodeur will get the start tonight.  I have no problem with this.  Brodeur played well against the Flyers in a losing effort.  One could argue he was one of the few Devils who looked like they were ready for a NHL game on opening night.   Now that the rest of the team has got up to speed, Brodeur will benefit by not seeing so many breakdowns and turnovers by the guys in front of him.  At least, I hope there won't be so many this evening.

The other potential change is on the fourth line. DeBoer has inserted Rod Pelley and Cam Janssen on the fourth line in place of Adam Henrique and Eric Boulton.   Both are hoping to get a game in according to this Tuesday post by Gulitti. That's understandable, not many people enjoy not playing when able. It's a good sign for both that they were on the fourth line in Wednesday's practice; it might mean they'll play.  To be frank, I can't say this is really an improvement on the fourth line.  Henrique seems ill-suited for limited minutes, but he could bring more to the table now than Pelley. Janssen's been a worse player than Boulton in past seasons, and I'll consider it a small victory if he doesn't take any stupid penalties this evening. 

Speaking of, I would really appreciate it if the Devils cut down on penalties tonight.  Most of the 13 power plays they have gifted in their first two games were from avoidable situations.  It's early in the season, but Los Angeles already has 2 power play goals out of 7 total attempts in 2 games.  None of them were empty net goals, either.  Given their top six plus support from stud defenseman Drew Doughty and offensive defenseman (read: defensive black hole) Jack Johnson, I really don't want to see too much of the Kings' power play units.  The Devils have been successful on the PK so far, but it's not going to last forever.  Their discipline has to improve because a team like the Kings' power play this season can be the first to ruin their evening this season if they don't.

I would also suggest that the Devils power play needs to manage more rubber on net.  Yet, I'm not so sure it's worth bringing up. While the Devils have averaged 6.5 shorthanded times in their two games, the Kings have only averaged 2.5.  Yep, they have been shorthanded only 5 times this season - the second lowest in the season.   They haven't been spotless, Buffalo did get a PPG on them on Saturday.   And they will surely be shorthanded more often in the season.  Yet, they're keeping their nose clean so I wouldn't expect them to hand New Jersey power plays like Carolina did.    Should the Devils get a chance to use their power play units, we can see whether their recent practice at it will pay off.   In this post, Matthew Ventolo did a good job identifying what those units are and added some thoughts on what he would do to tweak them towards success.  Who knows, maybe we'll see it tonight?

One last general point for the Devils.  It's worth noting that they're not making too many lineup changes early on.  I'm pleased by that.  The top three lines did mostly well on Monday and keeping them together makes sense.  The defense was fine as well, so I see no reason to mix up the pairings.  It's still early, but it's a sign that DeBoer is comfortable with who he has and where they are on the roster.  Players can gel with each other and the coaches have an idea of what could work early on.  I see it as a positive.

The Kings, on the other hand, have been a little busier.   It's a positive for them as they're getting a couple guys back from injury.   As noted prior to the jump, Dustin Penner is back in the lineup.  The big forward will enter their top six.  While he may be rusty from not playing, I wouldn't automatically assume that he'll be a non-factor.  This is a season of redemption for him, to show the Kings the quality he showed in Edmonton.  Besides, according to Rich Hammond, he's currently slated to play with Honorless Non-Captain Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, who are threatening enough on their own.  Richards is basically a meaner version of Parise in terms of driving play, and Brown not only has offensive skill but penalty-drawing skill as well.   Hammond also reported that Colin Fraser has been recently cleared to practice. While he may not play tonight, he may be in the lineup by the next Devils-Kings game.

The Kings are also looking to make changes to their fourth line and goaltender this evening too.  Per Hammond at LA Kings Insider (a.k.a. to Kings fans what Fire & Ice is for Devils fans), Jonathan Quick will start in net; and their expected fourth line will be Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, and Ethan Moreau.    The Kings may find some success if their fourth line goes up against the Devils' projected Janssen-Mills-Pelley unit on paper.  I emphasize 'may' since I recall that Moreau used to be a decent hockey player.  I don't really know if he is or not anymore. 

In any case, I would be remiss to not mention Drew Doughty in a game preview that involves the Kings.  Drew Doughty got paid this summer after a prolonged contract negotiation.  So far, he's been earning every cent just in minutes alone.  In the Kings' season opener, he played 26:54.  On the very next night against Buffalo, he logged a mind-boggling 28:45.   He's not even 21 yet.   Doughty, like Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, is the very definition of a "stud" defenseman. He's great in all situations, he can carry the 'D' on his back, and he gives nearly all opposing forwards problems.   Doughty is the rare example of a player who jumps into the league right after his draft year, plays a ton of minutes, and does it all quite well.  And he's  supported by a pretty good Willie Mitchell.  Whenever he's not on the ice, the Devils would be wise to take full advantage on offense.

Those are my thoughts on tonight's game.  What is your take?  What do you expect from both the Devils and Kings tonight?  Do you like that the Devils are keeping mostly the same lineup from Monday's game, or do you think DeBoer should have made more changes?  Will the Devils take fewer penalties tonight than they did in either of their first two games?  Will you be at the Rock this evening?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.  Thanks for reading.