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Game Day Preview #72, New Jersey Devils @ Los Angeles Kings

Possible league MVP Taylor Hall comes to town to face off against MVP of our hearts, Anze Kopitar.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: New Jersey Devils (36-26-8) @ Los Angeles Kings (39-26-5)

Game Time: 1:00 PM, FS-W

The Kings get one more crack at figuring out the matinee game mystery. Their past two games, against the struggling Blackhawks and Blues, haven’t gone very well. Today’s team presents even more of a challenge.

The New Jersey Devils, thanks in large part to Taylor Hall’s MVP-quality season, are hanging on to the second wild card spot in the east. They’re starting to create a gap between the only team left who could threaten their positioning, the Florida Panthers, who are just three points out. This is one that could come down to the wire, especially if Philadelphia continues their downward spiral they’ve been stuck in as of late.

But the Devils look like a team who’s finally put all the pieces together. Their defense is still made up of a bunch of guys whose names you sort of recognize, or remember from other teams — for example, I learned today that Ben Lovejoy is still hanging around — but for once, the skaters are providing the goal support that Cory Schneider has almost never gotten throughout his career in New Jersey’s net.

And when the Devils need to be strongest — a tough Western Conference road trip when they’re fighting to a playoff spot — so far, they’ve delivered. Their game on Wednesday in Vegas was an absolute drubbing for the home team. By three minutes into the second period, the Devils were already up 4-0, a lead that they never relinquished.

Despite some struggles earlier in the winter — since December, the Devils have had a six-game losing streak and two four-game losing streaks — the Devils are starting to even their game out, and just in time. They’ve come a long way from the grinding, boring trap team we’ve seen in years past. Taylor Hall, healthy and freed from the Edmonton fishbowl, is having fun and flourishing with the Devils. He’s hit a new career high in goals (31) and has his highest total points since 2013-14, a figure which he’s sure to blow past before the end of the season.

While we here at JFTC (as well as some other astute observers) are clearly on the Anze Kopitar For All The Awards train—

—Hall’s performance this year definitely puts him as a frontrunner for the Hart. Hall’s got 31 more points than the Devils’ second leading scorer, Nico Hischier, who’s put together a quietly solid rookie campaign with a more than respectable 45 points on the year so far. But still, the drop off in scoring from Hall to Hischier, and, ten points below him, Kyle Pamieri and Jesper Bratt, is significant.

The first matchup between the Kings and Devils was a blow-out for the Devils, who took that game 5-1. The Kings struggled with the Devils’ speed and almost seemed unprepared for the Devils’ play. That game marked the start of a three-game losing streak and came after two narrow wins for the Kings, both in overtime.

Are the Kings more prepared for the Devils now? Recent games, highlighted by a lack of any real effort or urgency from the Kings, suggest the answer to that question is no. The Kings struggled at times against the Red Wings, allowing them back into the game after the Kings controlled play for the first half of the first period. The 4-1 score was inflated by two late goals, including a power-play empty-net goal, and doesn’t really reflect how tight the game was.

Today’s game is a good test before the Kings embark on a road trip featuring three Central Division playoff teams, and also the Oilers, who seem to delight in spoiling the Kings’ fun whenever possible. Two points would be huge today, especially in keeping up with the Sharks, who face Vancouver and, let’s just call it now, they’ll probably be walking away with two points from that one (the Canucks have been shut out in three straight games).

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Rieder - Carter - Lewis
Pearson - Kempe - Toffoli
Clifford - Mitchell - Thompson

Forbort - Doughty
Martinez - Phaneuf
Muzzin - LaDue

Quick
(Campbell)

New Jersey Devils

Hall - Hischier - Palmieri
Grabner - Zajac - Gibbons
Maroon - Coleman - Noesen
Wood - Boyle - Stafford

Greene - Vatanen
Moore - Severson
Butcher - Lovejoy

Kinkaid
(Schneider)

Opposing Preview: All About the Jersey