The last time they came here, the good guys won. But that was in June 2012.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (6-7-5) vs. the Los Angeles Kings (12-6-1; SBN Blog: Jewels from the Crown)
The Food Drive: It's tonight! Bring food to the Rock. Bring five pieces and get four tickets. Do it anyway because it's a good thing to do. More details at the Devils' official website.
The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday, the Devils faced Our Hated Rivals in Rangerstown. Unlike the last Devils-Rangers game, this game featured many more shooting attempts, shots, and one extra goal combined from both teams. It also featured an essentially shorthanded Devils team as Anton Volchenkov left the game early with an injury and Cam Janssen and Mattias Tedenby played less than six minutes each. Said Devils team attacked but couldn't slow down the Rangers from the second period onward. The five power plays they gave them certainly didn't help either. Fortunately, Martin Brodeur remained hot stopping all kinds of shots from all kinds of situations. Ryan Carter got on the board early, Marc Staal provided an instant response, and before the second period ended, Carter struck again with a backhander Henrik Lundqvist really should have stopped. In the third, the Rangers did get an equalizer from Dan Girardi when his long shot took a bounce off Adam Larsson's foot, Brodeur's glove, and into the net. But that didn't last too long either when Dainius Zubrus followed up a close shot block by pounding it high past a prone Lundqvist. The Lithuanian Freight Train arrived in Penn Station and helped the Devils leave with a 3-2 win. My recap of the team winning the First Battle of Rangerstown is here.
The Last Kings Game: On Thursday night, the Kings went to Nassau County to play the New York Islanders. It wouldn't be until the first five minutes of the second period for there to be some scoring. It came quickly, too. Casey Cizikas got a fortunate bounce off Ben Scrivens off a loose puck and backhanded it in to make it 1-0. Minutes later, John Tavares hit Aaron Ness with a cross-ice pass that ended with a one-timer that earned Ness his first of the season. The Isles pounded the Kings 15-5 in shots in the second and with a 2-0 lead, things were looking good. The Kings would ruin that in the third period. It all started with Slava Voynov firing one in low at a sharp angle that beat Kevin Poulin. Past the halfway mark of the third, Tanner Pearson shot the puck at Poulin and he couldn't keep it out of the net to convert a power play. The goal was his first and the Kings' equalizer. With less than a hundred seconds left, Tyler Toffoli tipped a shot by Jake Muzzin that got through to make it 3-2. The Kings didn't dominate possession but they sucker-punched the Isles with a third period comeback win. Jewels from the Crown has more on that game.
The Goal: Again: stay out of the box. The Devils have taken twelve penalties in their last two games worth eleven power plays. The penalty killers and Brodeur have been very good as they have not allowed a goal. But this cannot continue, especially against the Kings. Among the many good things the Kings do, they are threatening on the power play. The Kings' conversion rate on power plays is just inside of top ten in the NHL at 20.6%. More importantly, they're shooting a lot. According to Extra Skater, Los Angeles is a top-ten team in terms of shots per 60 minutes in power play situations. That should be of no surprise given their personnel and the way they normally play at even strength. L.A. hasn't given up a lot of goals but if the Devils want to give them several man advantages to try, then they could be in for a rude awakening in this game. P.S. Be especially careful around Dustin Brown and the Actor, Daniel Carcillo.
Rulers of Possession: As I've gleaned from Jewels from the Crown, Corsi has been touted by one of the Kings' broadcasters, Jim Fox. Between him and Sabres broadcasts featuring that figure, it's getting more notice. It makes total sense for someone following the Kings to know this because they've been ruling the league in this category. According to Extra Skater and before Thursday's games, the Kings are first in the league in Corsi percentage at 58.7%. Second place Chicago is at 56% so the Kings aren't just barely in first. If you want to pare that down to score-close situational Fenwick in 5-on-5 play, the Kings aren't in first but are still well ahead of the league with a second-place rate of 57.4%. A closer look at those percentages reveal the Kings to be dominant at generating attempts at even strength (63 CF/60, second in the league) as well as limiting them (44.9 CA/60, second in the league behind only the Devils). With this in mind it's no surprise their shots per game averages are so great: 33.3 shots per game (third in the league) and 25.3 shots allowed per game (second in the league). Of course, this all flows down to the player level. Their worst Corsi player this season and the one of two players on the team with less than ten shots on net (he has zero in four games, the other is Pearson, who had one goal on three shots in his one game this season) is Lindey Vey at 50%. Yes, their worst guy is right at the breakeven mark and he's a fill-in player. The stars to the regular depth guys have been just dominant in pushing the play forward. Regardless of Thursday's games, the point is the same: the Kings have dominated possession this season. This makes them a difficult opponent for anyone, much less a Devils team that had recently let up quite a bit in Rangerstown.
The Kings just have two ongoing issues that have prevented them from dominance in the standings.
Banged Up: The Kings have suffered a number of injuries to significant players this season. Over at Jewels from the Crown, a writer by the name of HailCrown had updates on five of them on Wednesday. The list is grim: Jeff Carter, Jarrett Stoll, Matt Greene, Kyle Clifford, and, most recently, Jonathan Quick. Clifford was a fourth liner and Greene was a third pairing player, but good things happened when they were on the ice. Stoll has been a mainstay of the third line. Jeff Carter had five goals, four assists, and 57 shots on net (still tied for team lead before the Isles game) before he suffered a broken foot. While the Kings have seemingly filled the bottom six and endured without Carter, Quick's loss is huge. Jon Rosen at LA Kings Insider reported before Thursday's game that he suffered a grade 2 groin strain and could be out for several weeks. Losing a starting goaltender is a big deal in general. It's a particular concern with the Kings this season due to their second ongoing issues.
Not Scoring A Lot Goals Despite Big Possession Advantages at Evens: Believe it or not, the Kings have had a lot of trouble scoring goals at evens for whatever reason. We know the Devils are well below league median at generating attempts at even strength and their power play remains a struggle. The Kings don't have those problems - again, their power play is quite good - but their even strength save percentage is around New Jersey's. Really, it's at Extra Skater right here. Before the Isles game, the Kings have only scored five more goals than the Devils at evens although they had 83 more shots on net. The Kings are certainly not lacking in talent. Even without Carter, the Honorless Center Mike Richards plays behind an ace first line of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Justin Williams. Stud defenseman Drew Droughty is a big threat at both ends and is often involved in the offense. They're not lacking skill and they're certainly not lacking in attempts to score; the puck just hasn't dropped in for them anywhere close to league average. Not that 12-6-1 is a record to sneeze at, but imagine how much better that would be if this team was shooting near 8% at even strength?
What that means is that the Kings have had to play many low-scoring games and rely on some good goaltending. They've received that. Quick has been very solid at evens with a 92.2% save percentage and a bit OK on the penalty kill . He's played in 16 games so far so he's been the clear #1 goalie. Now that he's hurt, there's going to be plenty of hope placed on Ben Scrivens and the recently called up Martin Jones. Scrivens has been pretty good in his six appearances (three starts), with a 91.3% save percentage at evens and a 95.2% save percentage on the PK. Can he stay good? That will be the question for the Kings in the next few weeks. But if the skaters get some better puck luck, then pressure on the goalies to perform well will be lessened.
Potential Third String Start: That said, the Kings team right now could be as good of a situation as a third-stringer could hope for. The Kings have been extremely good at possession this season. Their defense has been excellent and the forwards at least do their best to drive the play into the other team's end. I don't think it's a team that leaves their netminder out to dry all that much. I bring this up since it's a real possibility that the Devils may see Martin Jones instead of Scrivens getting back-to-back starts. Jones has been superb with Manchester of the AHL. Only seven goalies have had better save percentages than him right now and a number of those haven't played as much. I think it's fair to say he's been one the best in the minors early on this season. No, the Devils don't always make these guys great. But Jones doesn't appear to be a scrub either. Besides, if the Kings play up to their averages this season, then the Devils are going to be limited in how much they get on him.
The Kings to Know: This all said, there are number of important players the Devils will need to key on tonight. The first comes on their defense and it's Drew Doughty. He's only averaging 25:48 per game, plays in all situations, takes on tough and soft minutes, takes lots of shots (55, third on the team), and comes out ahead with a Corsi percentage of 58.4% at evens. The only blueliner to surpass him in that last stat is Jake Muzzin, who's been protected and has received minutes with Doughty. When the Devils don't see #8 on the ice, then that's the time to attack. Not that Willie Mitchell, Alec Martinez, Slava Voynov (who had a strong game against the Isles), and Robyn Regher are bad - they're really not - but they're not Doughty. When the stud's on the bench, then the Devils need to make the most of that ice time.
While the Kings have struggled to score as a team, their top six has been fierce. Their top line of Brown, Kopitar, and Williams is frightful on paper and possibly on the ice to a defending player. Brown has the least amount of points of the trio (three goals, four assists), but it's not for a lack of trying given his 49 shots on net. He also draws plenty of penalties, something the Devils need to be cautious about when he goes down low to fight for pucks. Williams leads the team in goals with seven and he's got seven assists and 59 shots to go with that figure. He just continues to drive the play forward and forward; I don't know why he doesn't get more attention but he's very good. Kopitar is the star talent and leads the team in points with four goals and 14 assists. He's just behind Williams and Doughty in shots with 52. As with his linemates, he steamrolls the play forward - everyone's over 62% Corsi at evens, over 62% - and all three just shoot a lot on it. If Peter DeBoer has to try and slow down one unit, then this should be it. Whether that is even possible is unknown.
But don't sleep too hard on the second line. Even without Carter, Mike Richards has proven to be threatening on his own. He's got five goals and 12 assists, plays a lot, also manages a Corsi percentage over 60%, likes to play rough when the going gets tough, and helps out his linemates. Richards plus Carter is big threat. He hasn't slouched much with Dwight King and Tyler Toffoli. King usually is in the bottom six; but he's been moved up. He's got five goals and two assists this season; one goal and two assists the last two games with Richards. Toffoli has been more impressive. In five games, he's already got 15 shots on net, three goals, and four assists. Talk about making a case to stay on the team. Richards will be the centerpiece of that unit again, but beware the wingers because he could make them more threatening than normal.
Returning Devils: The New Jersey Devils did practice on Thursday and there were two returning Devils to the lineup. The first, arguably lesser return was Stephen Gionta. The second, arguably more important return was Patrik Elias. Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that both were inserted into the lines as Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson were the extras. Elias is a fantastic player so his inclusion is a no brainer. Tedenby wasn't doing much anyway. Josefson didn't have a good game against the Rangers and got benched right after the equalizer since he was a big reason why there was an equalizer along with taking a silly penalty. I understand that Josefson will be better than Gionta in the long run, but right now, that's not the case on the fourth line. Of course, if Cam Janssen didn't score two goals recently, then it would be possible for both to play. Alas, that's not happening and he'll likely meet Mr. Carcillo at some point. In any case, I don't think the fourths aren't going to decide this game. Elias' return is much more important and he'll be part of a to six that will have to do what few teams have done to L.A.: score a bunch of goals against them. It's not a guarantee, but usually whoever practices the day before a game plays so I'm confident both Elias and Gionta will play.
What's interesting is that DeBoer has elected to pair Elias with Damien Brunner and Michael Ryder while moving Adam Henrique to Andrei Loktionov's wing. Elias is coming back from back spasms, so giving him two linemates that really only play in one direction seems risky to me. I don't know if Elias can cover that much defensively for both. I would have preferred Henrique on Elias' wing and Loktionov's unit gets Brunner so that can be a more energetic third unit. If this doesn't work out, then DeBoer will rightfully change things up as needed. (Again, this will change if Elias isn't good to go, though I think he will be.) Travis Zajac remains with Jaromir Jagr and Dainius Zubrus so let's hope for more good things from them.
On defense, Mark Fayne returns to the lineup. Gulitti reported on Thursday that Anton Volchenkov "pulled a leg muscle" so Fayne's inclusion is pretty straight forward. He was a healthy scratch, the team needed a healthy body, so he obviously comes in. What may not seem so straight forward are the pairings. Fayne practiced with Peter Harrold while Andy Greene (the best Greene in the league, too) practiced with Marek Zidlicky. I do believe Fayne is a better defender than most of the blueline, even when the injured ones are healthy, and the best pairing would be to re-unite him and Greene. In theory, a Greene-Fayne pairing should be able to handle a dangerous top six. However, that would mean Zidlicky-Harrold is a pairing with a young pairing of Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas. I do not really want to see Harrold and Zidlicky together at evens and I don't think you do either. So unless you're willing to break Larsson and Gelinas up (you and DeBoer probably does not want to do that), I'll take Greene-Zidlicky and Harrold-Fayne. While the Devils have been fantastic as a team at limiting shooting attempts, the Kings could very well overwhelm them unless the defensive effort is on point. Again, the Kings generate a lot of shooting opportunities. I hope Fayne isn't so rusty and those not named Greene can be as solid as Greene. The forwards also need to help out too.
Lastly, returning to the net is Cory Schneider as Gulitti reported on Thursday. This game against the Kings is the first of a back-to-back set so Schneider and Martin Brodeur were going to split the set. I'm fine with this decision. Schneider did play as well as he could in his last start in Toronto. Although I wouldn't have minded at all if Brodeur received this start. He's been hot, he passed a heat check in Rangerstown, and his last game had him face 35 shots and over 60 attempts. Whoever in net could see that tonight, so Brodeur would have been a good option. But it's OK; he'll get similarly challenging Pittsburgh team on Saturday night.
Again: Please don't take so many penalties, Devils. The Kings could make this a long enough night as it is at even strength, don't give them help.