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Game Preview #9: New Jersey Devils @ Los Angeles Kings

The Devils have called up Alex Holtz to give the offense a spark, and he is expected to make his debut in LA. Can the kid dazzle and help the Devils beat the Kings?

NHL: Preseason-Washington Capitals at New Jersey Devils
Alexander Holtz is expected to make his NHL debut Friday against the Kings
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-3-1, 9 points) visit the Los Angeles Kings (4-5-1, 9 points). SB Nation Blog: Jewels From The Crown

The Time: 10:30 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - ESPN+, Hulu. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network

The last Devils game

The Devils lost to the Anaheim Ducks 4-0 on Tuesday evening. They played well over the first 9 or so minutes before their abysmal special teams play sunk them, as Jenna pointed out in her recap. Dougie Hamilton suffered a lower-body injury and didn’t play in the final two periods. P.K. Subban was fined $15,000 by the league for tripping Trevor Zegras in the first period of the game, the latest in a recent pattern of questionable plays by the veteran defenseman. It was one of those nights where anything that could go wrong for the Devils did go wrong and there are very few positive takeaways from the game.

The last Kings game

The Kings defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-2 in a shootout in the TNT nationally televised game Wednesday night. Arthur Kaliyev, who scored earlier in the third period, had the decisive goal in the skills competition. LA did a nice job of showing resiliency and getting the second point in this game as they held a 2-1 lead late in regulation before Torey Krug scored a shorthanded goal with 9 seconds left to force overtime.

The last Devils-Kings game

This will be the first meeting between the Devils and Kings since February 29th, 2020, when the Kings defeated the Devils 2-1 in overtime. Jesper Bratt scored the lone goal for New Jersey. Mackenzie Blackwood, who may potentially make his season debut tonight, was sensational in this game, stopping 36 of 38 shots, but Jonathan Quick was just a little bit better, turning away all but one of the 33 shots he saw. Adrian Kempe scored the game winning goal in the extra session, and former Kings captain Dustin Brown finished with two points.

Holtz gets the call

Stephen pondered the question whether or not Alex Holtz should be called up in his weekly column. Before practice on Thursday, the Devils announced that they indeed would be calling Holtz up from Utica and that he made the trip to Southern California to join the team. Lindy Ruff suggested during his media session Thursday that Holtz will make his debut Friday in Los Angeles.

Holtz showed his lethal shot during the preseason and continued to impress at the AHL level, so it was inevitable that he would get a look at some point this season. The Devils are 20th in goals per game at 2.63, and with Jack Hughes sidelined, they clearly decided they needed a little more firepower in the lineup. I’d like to see Holtz continue putting the puck in the back of the net and remain with the big team for good.

The latest on Dougie Hamilton

Lindy Ruff revealed in his media session that Dougie Hamilton is ‘doing well, and is day to day.’ This is good news. Unfortunately, it sounds like Hamilton will not be available tonight against the Kings. This is bad news.

Similarly to Hughes, the Devils simply can not replace what Hamilton brings to the lineup. Hamilton has been the clear cut #1 defenseman the Devils expected when they signed him. Expect Christian Jaros to slot into the lineup in the meantime.

As long as Hamilton isn’t out longer than the team thought, we should hopefully see him again soon. Perhaps as early as next week when the team returns to New Jersey.

What will the lines look like?

The Devils shifted Sharangovich to center for the Anaheim game. There was no indication from practice what the lines might look like for the LA game, but if it were up to me, I’d consider going with this.

Zacha - Hischier- Holtz

Johnsson - Mercer - Bratt

Kuokkanen - Sharangovich - Tatar

Vesey - McLeod - Studenic

Smith - Severson

Graves - Jaros

Siegenthaler - Subban

The Kings lines on Wednesday night were as follows.....

Andersson - Kopitar - Brown

Kempe - Danault - Iafallo

Grundstrom - Kupari - Moore

Lemieux - Lizotte - Kaliyev

Edler-Clague

Maatta - Roy

Bjornfot - Anderson

Quick (Petersen)

What do the Kings bring to the table?

Los Angeles has been one of the stronger possession teams in the league. They sit 6th in the league at CF% (53.35%) and 15th in xGF% (51.42%). The Kings should be a tougher matchup for those reasons alone.

Kings captain Anze Kopitar continues to build on his Hall of Fame credentials, with 13 points over the first 10 games in his age 34 season. It goes without saying that the Devils need to find a way to neutralize his line, first and foremost.

The Kings are in the middle of the pack at 14th in the league on the power play (21.1%). Of course, with how the Devils are playing on the penalty kill, they have a way of being a “get right” matchup for opposing teams and letting them do whatever they want on the power play. It would be much appreciated if the Devils avoided making seven trips to the box again and limited the opportunities the Kings get. It’s one thing to slash somebody to potentially save a goal, like Dougie Hamilton did the other night. It’s another thing to have TWO too many men penalties, which is inexcusable and unacceptable.

Holtz will not be the only top prospect making his NHL debut, as the Kings announced that they have recalled Alex Turcotte from the AHL. Turcotte was the 5th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and has 5 points in 8 games at the AHL level this season.

If the Devils don’t get a PPG tonight, will it ever happen?

There aren’t a lot of teams worse than the Devils when it comes to the penalty kill, but the LA Kings are one of them. Los Angeles has stopped opposing teams 70.4% of the time. It’ll be a real battle between an unstoppable force (the Devils power play) and an immovable object (the Kings penalty kill).

In all seriousness though, is it too much to ask for the Devils to gain the zone on the power play? Am I asking too much for a center to be able to win a faceoff so we’re not spending the first 20 seconds of the power play retrieving the puck before getting stuffed in the neutral zone? Heaven forbid somebody on this team actually shoots the puck and puts it in the net. Part of the reasoning behind Holtz being called up was to do just that.

No MSG coverage, again

The Devils game this evening will be exclusive to ESPN+/Hulu subscribers, and will not be on the MSG family of networks. Hence, you will need to subscribe to ESPN+ or Hulu, either individually or through the bundle with Disney+, to watch Holtz’s debut. Please do not ask for links for illegal streams in the comments section. You can legally subscribe at the link here.

If you were not a fan of the ESPN production the other night, then at least I have some good news for you in that John Buccigross and Ray Ferraro will be on the call. Perhaps someone on their production team will notice if a significant player leaves the game early due to injury.

MSG+ will have coverage of the Devils game Saturday night in San Jose, so if you all of a sudden have a newfound appreciation for Steve Cangialosi and Ken Daneyko and/or want to watch the game on basic cable, rest assured that they’ll be on the call of the final game of the California road trip.

Your Thoughts

On paper, the matchup against the Kings is a ‘winnable’ matchup. Of course, we said the same thing about the Ducks and the Devils decided to no-show that game, with Lindy Ruff blaming jet lag. There should be no such excuses this time, or at least, there better not be.

How do you think tonight’s game will play out? Can the Devils rebound from an abysmal performance in Anaheim and beat the LA Kings? Will Alexander Holtz score in his NHL debut? Can the Devils get by without Dougie Hamilton? Will the beleaguered special teams units come through, for a change? Will one of the underperforming forwards please step up? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on tonight’s game and thank you for reading!