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Kovalchuk leads Devils into L.A. to face Kings

by Dave Lozo
DEVILS (3-7-1) at KINGS (7-3-0)


Last 10 --
New Jersey 3-7-0

Season series --
This is the first and only meeting between the clubs. Last season, the Kings won 3-2 at Prudential Center on Jan. 31 in their only matchup.

Big Story -- It's a battle between the best in the West against the second-worst in the East. The Devils will be playing their second game in as many nights, coming off a 2-1 victory in Anaheim on Friday. The Kings will welcome Ilya Kovalchuk, who was reportedly close to coming to Los Angeles as a free agent this summer, to Staples Center.

Team Scope:

Devils -- For what seems like the entire season, coach John MacLean has said he needs his team to be stronger on the puck. He never questioned his players' work ethic, but he wanted to see them start winning more puck battles and 50-50 pucks.
While there's no statistic that measures wins and losses in puck battles, the Devils seemed to be coming out of more scrums with pucks against Anaheim than they had all season. It will be important for that to carry over against the Kings.

"I thought we did very well in puck battles," MacLean said Friday. "I thought we did managing the puck through the neutral zone. I thought we used the boards to our advantage and got the puck deep. Everybody played the game plan. I thought it was a very good team effort."

Kings -- They are coming home after going 3-2-0 on a road trip that went through Phoenix, Colorado, Minnesota, Chicago and finally Dallas, where the Kings earned a 5-2 victory on Thursday. Now they will come home to the Staples Center where they have yet to lose in three games.

Jack Johnson has stepped up in the absence of defenseman Drew Doughty, who has missed five games due to a concussion. Johnson has six assists in those five games.

"I've been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time," Johnson said. "We want to get Drew back as soon as possible, but we don't want to rush him with an injury like that. He's a huge part of this team, but I also have a lot to offer to help this team win."

Who's Hot --
Devils forward Dainius Zubrus has 5 assists in his last 5 games. … Kings right wing Justin Williams has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last four games.

Injury Report -- Jacob Josefson (hand) may sit out a second straight game. Defenseman Matt Corrente is out with a broken hand. … For the Kings, right wing Wayne Simmonds left Thursday's game against the Stars in the third period and did not return. Doughty (concussion) could be back for this game.
Stat Pack -- The Devils are dead-last on the power play (8.1) and just 19th (82.9) on the penalty kill. The Kings are ranked 17th in power-play efficiency (15.4), but are fourth at killing off penalties (89.1).

Puck Drop -- "You're playing a division game, you get in at 3 in the morning, you've got a team sitting here fresh, I thought the guys worked very hard to get themselves ready to play. We were doing all the right things." -- Kings coach Terry Murray, on his team's effort in a 5-2 win at Dallas.

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