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Game Preview #40: New Jersey Devils vs. Los Angeles Kings

After a surprising win over Carolina, the Devils have a quick turnaround and host the Kings at The Rock Sunday night. Can the Devils keep up the offensive onslaught and get another win?

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at New Jersey Devils
Anze Kopitar is still going strong after all these years
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (15-19-5, 35 points) host the Los Angeles Kings (20-16-5, 45 points) SB Nation Blog: Jewels From The Crown

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through NHL.com or the SiriusXM app)

The last Devils game

The Devils put seven up on third-string goaltender Jack Lafontaine and the Carolina Hurricanes in a 7-4 win last night. Jon Gillies was shaky early, but got better as the game went on and ultimately stopped 28 of 32 shots he faced. Nate Bastian scored twice, Ryan Graves picked up three assists, and Pavel Zacha and Andreas Johnsson snapped long scoreless droughts with goals.

Matt covered all of this in his debut recap and he highlighted the Sharangovich-Hughes-Bratt line posting an xGF% of 77.99% cumulatively. They also dominated HDCF chances by a 5:1 margin. They really only generated the one goal, which was Jesper Bratt’s goal late in the second period that wound up being the game winner, but they created plenty of opportunities and its a positive sign that the Devils bottom two lines generated five goals, as bottom six production has been a big issue with this team in general this season. You can certainly chalk some of that up to the fact they faced an inexperienced goaltender who struggled, but considering the Devils own struggles in net this season, they’re not going to complain about the offensive production.

The last Kings game

The Kings lost to the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 at home Thursday night, as Darcy Kuemper stymied the Kings offensive attack. Future Hall of Famer Anze Kopitar scored the lone goal for Los Angeles to extend his team-lead in points to 11 over Alex Iafallo. Veteran goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped 23 of 26 shots he faced in the losing effort.

The last Devils-Kings game

The Devils and Kings met on November 5th in Southern California, with LA getting the 3-2 win in OT on a game winner by Alex Iafallo. Chris had the recap and noted how defensive miscues by Damon Severson and Ty Smith put the Devils in a position to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

What will the lines look like?

The Devils lines on Saturday night against Carolina were as follows, per Amanda Stein.

Lindy Ruff made some changes with the wingers, bumping Jimmy Vesey up to the top line with Nico Hischier and Tomas Tatar and bumping Pavel Zacha to the third line. How did these changes work out? Very well actually. The Johnsson-Mercer-Zacha trio finished with an xGF% of 61.14% and combined for seven points, with Johnsson and Zacha in particular snapping long goal-droughts. I need to see a lot more from them to definitively say they’re back, and it needs to be mentioned that it was against a goaltender who was playing Division I hockey two weeks ago, but hey, thems the breaks sometimes.

As for the Vesey-Hischier-Tatar line, they struggled 5v5, combining for a 20% CF% cumulatively. Judging from the Natural Stat Trick stats, it looks like their line was primarily matched up against the Niederreiter-Aho-Jarvis top line from Carolina. The 5v5 numbers aren’t great from the Hischier line, but they kept the Aho line off the scoresheet, so good job?

Colton White was recalled before Saturday’s game, as Ty Smith went on IR with an upper-body injury. He skated on the third pairing with Christian Jaros. I was largely unimpressed with their performance against Carolina, in particular Jaros’s play on the Leivo goal, but Ruff smartly sheltered that pairing and leaned heavily on his Top 4.

I’d expect the Devils to roll the same lines and defensive pairings, although if Ty Smith is going to be out for any extended period of time, I’d like to see someone from the AHL perhaps get a look in that spot. Kevin Bahl has gotten some NHL time already this season and Reilly Walsh continues to chip in offensively at Utica, so either choice would be more desireable long-term.

Back in Black(wood)

With birthday boy Jon Gillies getting the start last night against Carolina and Lindy Ruff telling the team media that he will split his goaltenders this weekend, expect Mackenzie Blackwood to start against Los Angeles.

Blackwood played fine in his previous outing against the Kings, which happened to be his season debut. But a lot has happened since he started the season 4-1-2 over his first eight games with a .922 save percentage. Blackwood is at .877 since then. It goes without saying that he can’t continue to give up 3, 4, or 5 goals every time he goes out there, as the Devils simply have no chance of winning if they need to overcome such deficits.

What do the Kings Bring to the Table?

The Kings skated these lines in their last game, as Adrian Kempe remains in COVID protocol for Los Angeles. They also skated the same lines in their practice Saturday at the Prudential Center’s practice rink.

Los Angeles has been a pleasant surprise in the Pacific division this season, especially considering the struggles of goaltender Cal Petersen. Fortunately for them, Jonathan Quick is having his best season since 2017-18, Anze Kopitar has continued to produce at an elite level, they’re still one of the top 5v5 teams in the league, and they play in the softest division in the league.

The Kings sit bottom 10 on special teams, so you know what that means. Score on the power play (especially as the Kings penalty kill has really struggled of late). Keep them from scoring on the power play. Simple stuff.

It will be important for the Devils to get the matchups they want against Kopitar’s line, so expect to see a lot of Nico Hischier and Mike McLeod matched up against him when they can and leaving the Hughes line to feast on their other lines.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about this evening’s matchup? Can the Devils keep the good times going and get a win against the upstart Kings? How will Blackwood fare in net? Should they even go to Blackwood? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!