The New Jersey Devils will aim to bounce back from having a six-game winning run at home ended by Montreal Canadiens as they host the in-form Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
|Los Angeles Kings @ New Jersey Devils
|Prudential Centre, New Jersey
|7:00pm, Thursday 23rd February
|How to watch
|NHL.com / MSGSN, BSW
|LA Kings +125 , NJ Devils -145
Despite the two teams having very different positions in the standings, the Canadiens pulled off a 5-2 upset against the Devils at Prudential Centre which left their record at 37-15-5 and five points behind Carolina Hurricanes for the Metropolitan Division lead.
The Devils are +450 to get ahead of the Hurricanes and win the division, but whether they manage that or not, their season has to be considered a major success so far as they look well set to book a place in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
Los Angeles are also enjoying a strong season and with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games find themselves just two points behind Vegas Golden Knights for the Pacific Division lead.
The Kings (32-19-7) are +350 to win the division but also have competition from the Seattle Kraken and Edmonton Oilers who are one point behind.
Before a narrow 2-1 defeat to Minnesota Wild which began a five-game road swing, the Kings had won four in a row scoring at least five goals in each game during the streak.
The offensive burst improved their average goals scored to 3.31 (12th) and with eight powerplay goals on 16 opportunities during the run, moved their success rate on the man advantage to 26% which is second best in the league.
Swede Adrian Kempe has scored six goals over the last five games, to take his team leading tally to 28.
Off-season acquisition from the Wild Kevin Fiala has the most points with 61 (21 goals, 40 assists) while Anze Kopitar (19 goals, 32 assists), Phillip Danault (14 goals, 26 assists), Viktor Arvidsson (16 goals, 23 assists) and Gabriel Vilardi (17 goal, 14 assists) are also enjoying productive seasons.
Defence pair Drew Doughty (three goals, 34 assists) and Sean Durzi (six goals, 24 assists) offer an offensive threat from defence, but as a unit the Kings would like to improve their goals against which currently sits 22nd in the league at an average of 3.35 per game.
The defensive record of the Kings will prove tough to improve against the Devils whose resurgence is being led by a group of exciting high draft picks including Nico Hischier, 24, (23 goals, 29 assists), Jesper Bratt, 24, (23 goals, 32 assists) and above all Jack Hughes, 21, who leads the team in goals (35) and points (71).
More recently, Dawson Mercer, 21, has put his name in with that group and with five goals in the past four games has taken his season tally to 16 which is just one away from what he managed in his rookie season.
Helped also by a 54-point (16 goals, 38 assists) contribution from blue-liner Dougie Hamilton the Devils are averaging 3.44 goals per game (eighth) and their defensive record is significantly better than the Kings', conceding an average of 2.67 goals per game which is fifth best in the league.
The Devils are 81.1% on the penalty kill which is 12th in the NHL, but surprisingly given their level of talent and strong goal scoring record, their powerplay is 17th in the NHL at 21.1%.
Like the Kings, they will fancy their chances on the man advantage, though, with LA's penalty kill at 75% and 25th.
The Kings went 2/4 and the Devils 1/3 in the first meeting between the two teams in mid-January, a 5-2 win for the Devils, and so while special teams will play an important role again, the Kings will need to match up to the Devils who have scored the highest amount of goals five-on-five in the NHL (133) while five-on-five if they want to be victorious.
Both the Devils and Kings have had periods of inconsistency between the pipes in recent seasons, but both have found comfort in a former Washington Capitals player.
The Devil signed Vitek Vanecek and the Kings Pheonix Copley from the Capitals as free agents in the off-season and both have proven their ability to take on a number-one role with their new team.
Vanecek has gone 24-6-3 with a .914 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average in New Jersey, and after starting the season as third choice, Copley has ousted Cal Petersen and Jonathan Quick and after they both badly struggled to begin the campaign has all but saved the Kings' season with a 17-4-1 record, .904 save percentage and 2.67 GAA.
Vanecek has been well supported by Mackenzie Blackwood who following a couple of troubled seasons has bounced back with an 8-5-2 record, .907 save percentage and 3.04 GAA.
Quick, a two-time Stanley Cup champion but who is now 37, has been used to give 31-year-old Copley some rest but his 10-12-4 record and .878 save percentage and 3.49 GAA does little to inspire confidence and Copley is fully expected to start against the Devils.