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Game Day Preview #53, Los Angeles Kings @ New Jersey Devils

Ilya Kovalchuk is ready to get booed.

2012 NHL Stanley Cup Final – Game Four Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 4:00 PM Pacific
TV: ESPN+, Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: All About the Jersey

February Road Trip Stats: 1-1-0

Hello From The Friendly Skies, Almost

At the time of writing, your intrepid JFTC-In-Charge-For-Now-We-Guess Editor is sitting in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, waiting for a flight to New York to take a very circuitous route to Newark, New Jersey to get another look at these 2018-19 Los Angeles Kings in person. I am 1-1-0 so far this season, with a shoot-out win in Chicago and a putrid loss in Minnesota under my belt. Much like the Kings, I’m hoping to improve my overall average as I follow the team around for the next three games.

After a great come from behind win last night in New York, featuring two Adrian Kempe goals, which is precisely two more goals than I expected out of him, and some majestic overtime heroics from Kempe and Tyler Toffoli, the Kings have to feel good going into New Jersey, facing yet another struggling team.

While the Devils reached the playoffs last year, they’re sitting at the bottom of their division right now, done in by underperformance across the roster. (Sound familiar?) They’ve won four of their last ten, often on the strength of the performance of rookie goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood. With Corey Schneider and Keith Kinkaid both floundering this season, Blackwood has been somewhat of a saving grace for the Devils.

So, of course, Blackwood has been sent back to the AHL. Schneider’s conditioning stint after an injury is over, and the Devils aren’t going to carry three goalies, so it’s back to the AHL for Blackwood, and, quite possibly, back to the struggles for Schneider and the Devils as a whole. While the Devils organization is probably pleased to know that Blackwood looks like the real deal as far as a future NHL regular, right now he’s going back to ply his trade in the minors.

Taylor Hall, after a fantastic 2017-18 campaign, has been out since around Christmas with a lower body injury, increasing the Devils’ woes. He’s the team’s second-leading scorer despite playing only 33 games so far this season. The team is doing their best to step up in Hall’s absence, but it’s been a rough go for the Devils this year.

Welcome Back (?), Ilya

Of course, the real story here is the return of Ilya Kovalchuk, playing his first game in New Jersey since the 2012-13 season and his controversial retirement to return to Russia. The Kings that Kovalchuk finds himself on now are not the Kings that he was promised by Rob Blake and company when he signed his contract here, so he’s not exactly returning to Newark in any sort of glory. Instead, he’s struggled to find a spot in the lineup, hampered by both injury and a coach who doesn’t seem to understand how to deploy him. But hockey players always seem to do their best against their old teams—look at Jeff Carter soaking up the boos every time the Kings visit Columbus, for example, or to Tanner Pearson’s triumphant celebration when scoring against the Kings in December. Despite Kovalchuk being bounced around the lineup and not used to his best potential, this has all the hallmarks of a huge game for him.

Let’s hope it’s reflected on the box score for him, as well.

Other Notes of Some Importance

No word yet on Jeff Carter, but presume he’ll be held out of the game. No practice lines, but with the Kings horrifically short on centers, and the only other extra forward in playing condition being Matt Luff, well, no word on who will be moved to the pivot. Willie Desjardins talked once before about Alex Iafallo moving to center, when he thought there was a chance that Anze Kopitar wasn’t going to be able to play, so it’s possible we see him there and Kovalchuk back up on the top line. Jack Campbell presumably starts.

Devils lineup is as follows:

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