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Game Day Preview #32, Los Angeles Kings @ New Jersey Devils

Let’s make it nine!

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (20-8-3) @ New Jersey Devils (16-9-4)

Game Time: 4:00 PM, FS-W

Despite the Kings’ victory over the 2012 Devils for the Stanley Cup, it’s hard to say that these two teams have much of a rivalry these days. Travis Zajac is the last Devil standing from the final game in that series (Adam Henrique, who scored the only Devils goal in the final game, would have been counted here too, until he was traded to the Ducks this season), while the Kings return with a core of seven players that carried them to that first Stanley Cup.

It’s been quite a different road for the Devils, who haven’t made the playoffs since then. Much like the Carolina Hurricanes, on paper sometimes, the Devils seemed to have everything working right, but just couldn’t put it together on a nightly basis.

Looks like fortunes are finally changing, though, as the Devils sit in the first wild card spot in the east, doing quite well in a very crowded Metropolitan Division. Their 36 points puts them ahead of playoff stalwarts like the New York Rangers and defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Devils have a few games in hand on each of those teams, as well. With the Atlantic looking increasingly iffy, it’s looking more likely that both wild card spots will go to Metro teams, and the Devils have done everything right so far to position themselves to be one of this year’s playoff surprises.

All teams go through slumps, though, and this year’s resurgent Devils are dealing with one right now. They’ve lost their last two games -- the first time they’ve lost consecutive games all season -- and generally have struggled this month, losing five of their last ten (including one overtime loss). With the exception of an uncharacteristic 5-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, they’re not being massively outmatched -- 26 goals for in the last ten, and 31 goals against -- they’re just not able to get the last puck in the net.

In New Jersey, Taylor Hall is leading the way, doing the work to silence the critics who helped pave his way out of Edmonton. Hall leads the team with 29 points and is second with nine goals. For a young team that’s certainly surpassed expectations this season, how the Devils weather this stretch of games -- including leaning on veterans like Hall to say and do the right things -- may say a lot about their resiliency, which they’re going to need to come out of the Metro and into the playoffs.

After an exhausting stretch for Los Angeles, featuring a four-game road trip, including back-to-back games, and games nearly every other day for almost the past three weeks, the Kings are looking to reset, too. Which is a funny thing to say, considering they’re on an eight-game winning streak, outscoring their competition 30 to 13 over the past eight games. But the fatigue was clearly catching up with them by the end, as evidenced by two needlessly close overtime games against the Senators and the Hurricanes. They managed to squeak out wins -- and even having watched that Carolina game with my own two eyes, I still don’t know how they won it -- but only barely.

A few days off, plus some forced team bonding, may have the team rested enough to extend their winning streak to nine against the Devils.

They might be doing it without Adrian Kempe, though, who started feeling ill on the trip into New Jersey and didn’t practice this morning. Torrey Mitchell, who’s been fine if largely unnoticeable since joining the team, took his place centering Marian Gaborik and Trevor Lewis. With how quickly John Stevens has been to gently mix up his lines lately, the chances of any of the lines staying the way they were seems very low.

Kyle Clifford was activated today from injured reserve and is available to play, as is Andy Andreoff. For what it’s worth, Clifford took regular line rushes with the fourth line, so he’s possibly the more likely candidate to draw in tonight alongside Jussi Jokinen and Jonny Brodzinski. Clifford’s looked strong in practice lately and, all things considered, brings more to the game than Andreoff would, so it’s a more logical choice.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Shore - Toffoli
Gaborik - Mitchell - Lewis
Clifford - Jokinen - Brodzinski

Muzzin - Doughty
MacDermid - Martinez
Forbort - Folin

Quick
(Kuemper)

New Jersey Devils

Hall - Hischier - Bratt
Coleman - Zajac - Gibbons
Wood - Zacha - Stafford
Hayes - Boyle - Noesen

Moore - Vatanen
Greene - Santini
Butcher - Severson

Schneider
(Kinkaid)

Opposing Preview: All About the Jersey