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Game Preview #17: New Jersey Devils at Los Angeles Kings

The New Jersey Devils will have an early afternoon game in California against the Los Angeles Kings today. This game preview goes over what the Kings have been about along with other thoughts about the Devils squad.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Los Angeles Kings
Adam Henrique will get plenty of ice time against the Kings today.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Today has an early start for the third stop on this road trip out West.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-4-3) at the Los Angeles Kings (8-9-1; SBN Blog: Jewels from the Crown)

The Time: 4:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV – MSG+; Radio -660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN; Digital Audio – The One Jersey Network

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils began the first of three road games in California on Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks. The first period was evenly played with plenty of no calls. The second period would eventually be more in New Jersey’s favor in the run of play. They would build up a two goal lead thanks to Kyle Quincey. Devante Smith-Pelly re-directed a Quincey shot off an offensive zone faceoff to make it 1-0. Minutes later, Pavel Zacha hooked Quincey up with the puck for a rocket of a slapshot that beat Jonathan Bernier high. 2-0 and it was looking good. Then the Ducks came back. Ryan Getzlaf found Rickard Rakell in the slot for a one-timer that trickled past Cory Schneider to make it 2-1. Sixteen seconds later, Andrew Cogliano found Jakub Silfverberg wide open with a diagonal pass across the slot; Silfverberg scored far post to make it 2-2. The third period was tense, but again, the run of play would favor New Jersey. But the Ducks would prevail. Silfverberg set up a covered Ryan Kesler in the slot for a quick shot. That shot was saved, but Kesler powered through to jam in the rebound to make it 2-3. The Devils received a power play and pulled Schneider late, but there would not be a third goal for New Jersey. The Devils’ five-game winning streak ended that night; my short recap of the loss is here.

The Last Kings Game: On the same night as the Devils were in Orange County, the Kings were at home to host Edmonton. The Kings enjoyed the first period as they went up 2-0. Derek Forbort scored his first of the season just after the five minute mark. A few minutes later, Tyler Toffoli finished a feed from Jeff Carter to double the lead. The Oilers would respond in the second period from two defensemen. Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom proceeded to tie up the game within the first half of the second period. Unfortunately, the Oilers made a mistake. Jordan Nolan of LA was penalized for interfering with Kelfbom at 8:58. At 9:06, Jeff Carter scored a shorthanded goal. Talk about not taking advantage of a situation. The Oilers did manage to keep shooting at Peter Budaj, but it was just not working out. In the third period, Devin Setoguchi scored an insurance goal at 13:15 to make it 4-2 for the Kings. The score stood for the team to break a four game winless streak. Eric K. at Jewels from the Crown has this short recap.

The Goal: Get the power play going. Yes, the Devils are without Taylor Hall, Michael Cammalleri, and possibly Yohann Auvitu. However, even when all three were last in the lineup last week, the power play was still scoreless. The Devils are currently 0-for-24 out of their last seven games. With five wins out of those last seven games, it has not been a huge problem. But it has been an issue and it was on display in Thursday’s losing effort. The coaches need to identify the adjustments they need to make for more consistent zone entries and identify who should be the focal point of the attack (e.g. Kyle Palmieri).

On paper, today’s game is a good one as any for the power play to break this streak. According to NHL.com, the Kings’ penalty kill ranks 20th in success rate at 80% (12 PPGA out of 60 shorthanded situations) and their home penalty kill ranks 26th in success rate at 78.3% (5 PPGA out of 23 shorthanded situations). The small number of shorthanded situations means that one should not expect the Devils to get a lot of calls today. However, the Kings have the lowest home PK success rate by far out of the four teams they’ll face on this trip (Dallas – 89.7%, Anaheim – 88%, San Jose – 90.9% with an impressive 10 out of 11 penalties killed). If the Devils want to help their cause of winning today’s game, then finding a way to get the power play successful would be a big way to do that.

The Rising Crowns: Looking at the basic numbers at NHL.com and I recognize several of the players that have led the Kings to two Stanley Cups remain on this year’s roster. And they continue to contribute significantly to the team. Jeff Carter is the team’s top scorer at the moment with six goals, seven assists, and 53 shots on net. Drew Doughty still plays a ton of minutes with an average ice time of 27:11. Anze Kopitar, who has not played the last few games with an injury, has still been L.A.’s top forward in terms of usage to go with two goals, six assists, and 37 shots on net. Dustin Brown is still around and still playing on an edge along with three goals and six assists. Jonathan Quick would presumably be the starter, but he’s been out with a groin injury since the beginning of the season. Marian Gaborik would be a standout, except he’s been out with a broken foot as far back as the World Cup of Hockey.

However, there have been players who have been thrust into bigger roles on the squad to keep the Kings as a viable squad. Tyler Toffoli has averaged about the same amount of minutes as Carter and he’s the leading shooter on the team with 59 shots. He also has five goals and six assists as well as being the only King with more than one power play goal. Toffoli has taken a leap forward in his career. The leading scorer from the blueline is not Doughty, but Alec Martinez, who has averaged at least 23 minutes per game and has two goals and eight assists. That’s a big jump over being a third pairing defender in the past. Tanner Pearson is tied with Carter for the team’s lead in goals with six and he’s the only King forward currently shooting over 12% at 17.1%. Nic Dowd is completely new to the roster and he has two goals and seven assists in sixteen games after making his first NHL appearances last season. It’s because of performances like this that the Kings will continue to be a team that other Pacific Division teams have to be concerned about. It’s not just the same old core with these players just being depth players; they’ve risen up the roster.

Mending the Crown: Injuries have undercut the Kings in both the short term and long term. Their injury list from Thursday’s game included Kopitar, Gaborik, Quick, forward Andy Andreoff, and defenseman Brayden McNabb. The good news for the Kings is that Kopitar, Gaborik, and Andreoff have been skating. Jon Rosen reported that they did practice on Friday at LA Kings Insider. Rosen also notes that they skated on a fifth line, so it is not expected that they’ll return tonight. That is good news for the Devils.

Hopefully, they can bring some help for special teams. The Kings’ penalty kill has not been all that great form a success rate point of view either overall or at home. They’re good at preventing shots,which speaks well of their process. However, with de facto #1 goalie Peter Budaj posting an 83% save percentage on the PK, the successes have not always been there. Their power play has been even more unfortunate. The Devils’ own cold streak on power plays dropped them to a 13% success rate for this season. That’s still higher than the Kings’ overall rate of 10.5%, the fourth-lowest in the NHL right now. They have scored a mere two power play goals out of eighteen situations at home and six power play goals out of 57 overall. It’s this futility that has contributed to Los Angeles’ goals per game average that averages just about as many goals per game as the Devils. This despite remaining as one of the best 5-on-5 teams from an attempts standpoint and regularly out-shooting opponents.

Respect the Crown: While they have their issues and their record does not look good, I am not worried about the Kings falling off anytime soon. They still have plenty of talent and Kopitar, Gaborik, and Quick will come back in time. The team’s systems result in a massive positive gap between shots and attempts by the Kings and shots and attempts by their opponents. That is more sustainable than a less-than-league median shooting percentage and crummy special team success rates. Despite their 8-9-1 record, the Kings are a mere point behind San Jose for a guaranteed playoff spot in the Pacific and two points behind a wild card spot. I believe they’ll be fine for 2016-17. Hopefully less so for today’s game.

Let’s Guess Goalies: With Quick out, Peter Budaj has been the #1 goalie for the Kings. While not so strong on the PK, he has posted an excellent 93% save percentage at even strength. From my perspective, he’s doing the best he can as Quick recovers. Per Rosen’s report from Kings practice yesterday, it appears Budaj will start this one and make his fifteenth appearance this season.

As for the Devils, I would think Cory Schneider would start this one. He’s been regularly playing whenever the Devils have rest before a game and they did have that on Friday. His even strength save percentage is just below 93%, but he has a superior PK save percentage at 89.1%. I was not exactly a fan of the first and third goals he allowed to Anaheim. The first did trickle past him; I believe if he a got a piece of it, then he should have got the entire puck. The third one was off a short rebound, but if Schneider played the first shot more forcefully instead of just touching it off with his stick, then perhaps that rebound is not there for Kesler to jam in. Schneider is as reliable as they come in the NHL so I’m not worried about him for today’s game. It’s just that I want him to perform a little better as well. Given that the Kings also average over 31 shots per game, he’ll certainly have the opportunity.

Staying Competitive: One of the big positives from Thursday’s loss is that the Devils at least knew their situation became less than ideal ahead of the game. They knew for sure Hall would be out for several weeks, Cammalleri would not be joining the trip, and an offensive defenseman would be out for at least the game. All of that combined with a cold power play, and they were still the more attacking team on the road. Credit that in part to Randy Carlyle’s ways, but many Devils continued to try their best to make a difference. Reid Boucher was actually noticeable with six shots on net. Kyle Quincey, of all players, was directly involved in the two goals the Devils scored. The fourth line of Sergey Kalinin, Vernon Fiddler, and Nick Lappin put in another good night’s work. Even Jon Merrill was not a drain on the proceedings. It is because of performances like that, I’m confident that the Devils can hang with Los Angeles today.

It is worth noting that the Kings are definitely the best possession team the Devils will face on this trip and among the best all season long. On top of that, the Kings have been very good at home with a 6-2-0 record. If the Devils can be able to at least match Los Angeles’ attacking efforts, then they’ll have a real chance of coming away with a result. It’s going to take another strong team effort to do so, but again, we’ve seen evidence of that in the last two games.

What I’d Like to See: That being said, I would like to see Auvitu back in the lineup for Merrill if only to take John Moore off power play duties. Auvitu was held out of the Anaheim game to do being banged up in the Dallas game. While Merrill was not appreciably bad on Thursday, he doesn’t have the offensive on-the-puck skills that Auvitu has. With the team ice cold on their recent power plays and seemingly always needing help scoring, I have more confidence in Auvitu contributing than Merrill.

Unfortunately, I may not get to see that per this tweet from Andrew Gross after yesterday’s practice. That would mean Merrill would stay with Ben Lovejoy.

I would also like to see stronger performances out of Pavel Zacha, Adam Henrique, and Kyle Palmieri. The unit did create the second goal for the Devils on Thursday. Henrique and Palmieri won the Dallas game in overtime. But now that Hall is out and Cammalleri is not going to appear on this trip, these three – especially the more veteran Henrique and Palmieri – really do need to be more consistent at attacking the net. The Anaheim game showed that Beau Bennett, P.A. Parenteau, and Travis Zajac can be a unit struggle in their match-up against the Ducks’ second line. While Henrique’s line ended up positive, it could have done more in light of the Zajac line being forced to defend quite a bit. The Kings’ way definitely works off match ups and if/when the Zajac line is in a similar spot again, then it’s more important that Henrique and Palmieri try to move the play more toward the Kings’ end. We’ll see whether that happens or not.

One Last Thought: If it goes to overtime, well, take it around the net like Moore did earlier this year. It could work.

Your Take: The road trip enters Los Angeles for what will be an early afternoon game there and a late afternoon game here. Devin will take care of your recapping needs of this game. Please read and thank him for that.

What do you think of this game ahead of it taking place tomorrow? Will the Devils pull together and beat on the Kings? Can the Devils handle Carter, Toffoli, etc.? Who else needs to step up on the Devils? Will we see a power play goal at all? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.