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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Los Angeles Kings:
1. Ilya Kovalchuk's return
It has been nine years(!) since the Devils traded for the Russian sniper. While he performed admirably during his tenure with the team, the way things ended rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, to say the least.
The 35-year-old has certainly lost a step but still remains a threat. Among Kings with 40+ games played, only Anze Kopitar has averaged more 5v5 points/60 this season. The shot is still there and he's not shy about using it – particularly on the power play, where he leads the team in attempts/60.
Fans will be looking for a reason to boo Kovalchuk. He's as likely as anyone on the Kings to give them one.
2. Low-event hockey
Over the last 10 games, the Devils have averaged 46.03 attempts/60 and 20.12 chances/60. They rank 31st in both categories. The Kings have been similarly bad at 5v5, recording 50.51 attempts/60 and 21.58 chances/60. They sit bottom-5 in each category during that span.
If you like watching teams trade chances, this probably won't be the game for you. The offensive excitement level could be Patriots vs Rams caliber.
3. A good PP spot for the Devils
New Jersey's power play hasn't exactly been lethal without Taylor Hall, however, this is a game where they could enjoy some success. Surprisingly, a defensive-minded LA team that rosters the likes of Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty is horrendous on the penalty kill. The Kings allow 9.35 goals per 60 while down a man, which ranks them 30th in the league. They are a little bit better in terms of expected goals against/60 but they're still in the bottom 1/3 of the league there. If the Kings get into penalty trouble, they'll likely have a tough time limiting the damage.
4. Inflating the numbers
Keith Kinkaid has posted a sub .900 save percentage in six of his last eight games. On the year, he has won 14 of 36 appearances and owns a .898 save percentage. Ugly numbers. It seems more likely than not he'll be traded at the deadline. With that in mind, the Devils should be doing everything they can to boost his value. Giving him softer starts is perhaps the best way to go about doing so and the Devils will do just that tonight. As home favorites against an offensively inept team playing its third game in four nights, Kinkaid figures to have a good chance of picking up a win and posting respectable numbers – thus boosting his season totals – in the process. We'll see if he can do it.
5. Igniting the 'top' line
The Marcus Johansson, Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri line has not clicked offensively. At all. The Devils average only 49 attempts and 21 chances per 60 minutes with that trio out there. For perspective, Miles Wood, Travis Zajac, and Blake Coleman generate better than 62 attempts and nearly 28 chances per 60 despite often playing top competition. John Hynes and co. really need to get more out of NJ1. Favorable matchups would help the cause, of course, and there's one unit they should target as much as possible in this one. That is vs Los Angeles' 3rd pairing. The Kings control only 45% of the attempts, 42% of the chances, and 40% of the high-danger looks with Paul Ladue and Dion Phaneuf on the ice. In other words, they're on their heels a ton. New Jersey's top line is not without talent so if they do find a way to create more looks, which is easy (relatively speaking) against that pairing, they should be able to convert.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Marcus Johansson - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - Blake Coleman
Jesper Bratt - Pavel Zacha - Drew Stafford
Brian Boyle - Kevin Rooney - Kurtis Gabriel
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Mirco Mueller
Egor Yakovlev - Steve Santini
Los Angeles (via DailyFaceoff.com)
**left last night's game with an injury, will try and update lines if out
Alex Iaffalo - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Brendan Leipsic - Jeff Carter** - Tyler Toffoli
Carl Hagelin - Adrian Kempe - Ilya Kovalchuk
Kyle Clifford - Mike Amadio - Austin Wagner
Derek Forbort - Drew Doughty
Alec Martinez - Oscar Fatenberg
Paul Ladue - Dion Phaneuf
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+ and FS-W.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey
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