Game Preview #43: New Jersey Devils at Los Angeles Kings
Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (27-12-3) at Los Angeles Kings (25-14-6). SBN Blog: Jewels From The Crown.
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Broadcast: TV – BSW, MSGSN
The last game of the Kings
In a wild game in California on Wednesday, LA beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 at home. LA dominated the Sharks in the first game, outscoring them 22-8, but could only manage a 1-0 lead at the break, thanks to an early Adrian Kempe goal. San Jose outscored the Kings in both of the last two periods, which were more contested. Nick Bonino tied it just after the first interval, before Quinton Byfield scored his first goal of the season to give LA a one-goal lead in the third. Tempting trade prospect Timo Meier made things very interesting by leveling the match with ten minutes to go. However, quick goals from Gabriel Vilardi and Drew Doughty gave LA a two-goal lead just three minutes after Meier had equalized. Tomas Hertl scored with two minutes left to make it 4-3, but LA held on and won a tight game against their local rivals. In net for the Kings was recent sensation Pheonix Copley – more on whom shortly – who made 27 of 30 saves to earn the decision with a .900 save percentage and a higher-than-expected 0.79 saves.
How are the kings doing?
The Kings entered this season largely expected to continue after making the play-offs for the first time since the 17/18 season last year. However, they were pretty poor out of the gate, sitting at 15-12-5 in mid-December after losing more games than they won. Since then, they’ve gone 10-2-1, with no team collecting more points in the same span than them. That has pushed them into second place in their division, just two points behind the Vegas Golden Knights, who hold first place in the Pacific. The Devils are facing the hottest team in the league, and they’re riding one of the hottest goalies in the league.
The Kings had major problems in net early in the year. With plenty of money locked up for Jonathan Quick — which has been the case for a while now, of course — and Cal Peterson (just $10 million between them per season), you could forgive the Kings for expecting better than .884 save percentages and .864 that the two have posted respectively so far this season. Peterson was waived and sent to the AHL in early December, prompting the call-up of a Pheonix Copley, who has since gone 12-2, largely lifting the Kings up the rankings.
With the Kings sidelined since Wednesday, and Copley red hot, I expect to see him in net against the Devils. Interestingly, Copley hasn’t been all that great since hitting the net. Of all goaltenders who have played at least 300 minutes at 5-on-5 since the start of December, Copley sits 15th in 5-on-5 save percentage at .923. Over the same time period, he sits 41st out of 47 qualifying goaltenders in 5-on-5 high-danger save percentage. Conversely, however, in all situations since mid-December, the Kings have gone from last in the NHL in all-situation save percentage to slightly better than league average, falling to 13th – of. The bottom line here is that Copley didn’t have to be a world beater, he just had to be good enough. Ne Devils fans know all too well the impact bad goaltending can have on a really good hockey team: clearly, the Kings were doing well – they were actually 6th in the NHL in 5-on-5 xG% for at 53.26% over that initial run – but I just couldn’t escape, and that sunk them. Since then, good fundamental numbers have shined and the Kings are a force. Let’s take a closer look at their offense and defense in addition to their seemingly settled goaltending.
All season long, the Kings have been good at five-on-five, posting a league-best 12th 52.43% xG for percentage (for those of you observant, yes, the Kings have actually been slightly worse on the run game from the start to win: strange). A very interesting trend throughout the season is the chart below, according to HockeyViz. It shows where LA has created their expected goals in all strengths compared to the rest of the league.
As we can see, the Kings are extremely good at generating offense on the right side, but terrible on the left. Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of this. Looking at their lineup from the San Jose game, they don’t seem to have an imbalance in terms of better right-backs than left-backs. In fact, with Kevin Fiala in left — the only King over a point a game for the season, playing extremely well after moving to LA from Minnesota last summer — I’d almost be inclined to favor the lefty. I won’t try to speculate why this might be, but it’s clearly a significant trend. Our left backs – most likely Jonas Siegenthaler, Ryan Graves and Nikita Okhotyuk, given the formations of recent games and Marino not yet back from injury – will have to be extra alert and on top of their game protection for this.
On the powerplay, the Kings are a dangerous unit, with the 8th best conversion rate in the league at 24.4%. As shown by the chart below, also from HockeyViz, we can see that Fiala, Kempe and Doughty combine for 72% of the blocked shots LA gets at 5-v-4. With Fiala mostly in front of the net or to the right of it, and Kempe in the right circle, we again see the tendency of a heavy attack from the right side in LA. Doughty tends to roam the entire ice, taking shots from everywhere (but mostly bombs from the point).
Again, the Kings power is one of the best in the league and should be respected. Fortunately for the Devils, forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Trevor Moore, who have 18 powerplay points between them for the season, have missed LA’s last few games and will likely miss the Devils game. However, this LA unit can clearly hurt you, so be careful.
Protection of Kings
As mentioned above, the Kings have been an above-average power team this year in the run game. This is largely due to their phenomenal shot suppression, per the chart below, which shows where the Kings are allowing shots compared to the league average. Again, HockeyViz, thanks.
All the blue stuff in front of the Kings’ net basically means that, compared to the rest of the league, they’re giving up fewer shots in these high-danger areas. In fact, they are giving up 9% fewer expected goals against 60 players than the average NHL team this season, which is a huge amount. With veteran defensemen like Doughty and Alex Edler, the Kings make it hard for you to get to the net, so the Devils will have to fight hard tonight. There seems to be a sweet spot in the higher slot where LA gives up slightly more than the league average opportunities. This can be an area to try to exploit, especially off the rush when there may be fewer defenders in the way of blocking those shots.
On the opposite end of the special teams spectrum, the Kings have taken a very poor penalty this season, ranking 28th. Their goalie is a poor 30th in penalty save percentage. Even if we only consider their recent success, they are still below average at 19th and 18th, respectively. Interestingly, in their last ten games, they have conceded the kill in seven of them – but they only concede one Powerplay goal in the game, surprisingly. Devils to get one on the human edge, anyone? Let’s hope so, that 5-on-5 defense looks difficult.
What are we trying to do here?
The Devils looked very solid last night against the Ducks, with coach Lindy Ruff and his players all stressing the importance of team structure in their post-game interviews. Granted, the Ducks are a scrappy, scrappy team this season, but we’ve seen the Devils play disorganized hockey at times, especially early in games, so it was encouraging to see New Jersey choke Anaheim and get a lead. early 3-0. We’ll need more of that structured play tonight against an unforgiving Kings team.
The secondary output has increased significantly over the last two games, which has been a very welcome development. The Boqvist-Mcleod-Mercer line was instrumental in helping the Devils upset the Hurricanes a few games ago, and they were on song again last night, setting up Hamilton’s opening goal with some good cycling work, with Boqvist later scoring the second in two games, going to five. -hole in detached. This unit played the most 5-on-5 minutes of any Devils line and had an xG for percentage of 67% in their combined 12 minutes. Since being assembled recently, this line has done surprisingly well—surprising even for Lind, going by his postgame comments—so let’s hope they continue to give the Devils more depth.
One last player I’d like to single out is Nolan Foote, who was in his first game last night, and did quite well in a protected role. For the Moneypuck, Foote played all 10 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, most of which was on a line with a combination of Yegor Sharangovich, Miles Wood and Erik Haula. Every line he was on fared very well over the course of the game, and Foote himself had an individual xG percentage of 92% at 5-on-5, the best on the Devils. He also had an individual xG of 0.4, albeit only on one shot at the net, but there were clear signs of positive play from Foote. He has 13 goals in 33 AHL games with the Comets this season, one shy of Graeme Clarke’s team-leading 14 goals, and will likely have a few games to show what he’s got before Nathan Bastian returns to the lineup, so that we hope. he builds on his encouraging display of yesterday and makes a case for himself. His stock has fallen with the Devils since being part of the return in the Blake Coleman trade with the Lightning, with his skating a particularly big question mark. It’s nice to see him rewarded for his play in the AHL this season, and now it’s up to him to make the most of this opportunity.
Let me know what you think about today’s game. Which of the Kings should we beware of? Are you looking for big plays from any of the Devils in particular? Give us your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading.