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Kings: Devils outside the door

10/30/2010

New Jersey Devils (3-7-1) vs. Kings (7-3-0) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Ilya who? – The Kings will never get back the two months they wasted trying to sign New Jersey sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, but they could rub more salt to the wounds with a victory. Kovalchuk opted to re-sign with the Devils for practically their entire salary cap, which rubbed many fans the wrong way. Neither is playing to expectations, as New Jersey is last in the Atlantic Division, and Kovalchuk has been scoreless in four of the last five games.

2. Trap game – Nothing like coming home from a long road trip, sleeping in your own bed and enjoying all the comforts of home again. Except at some point in history, it was determined hockey players don’t play as well under those circumstances. The Kings, however, have been a .500 team the game after returning from a lengthy road trip the last two seasons, so they seemed to be bucking that trend, just as they’ve been doing in the second game of back-to-backs.

3. Jack is back – Kings fans have a cyber-acronym for defenseman Jack Johnson, it’s 'JMFJ.' The Js represent his initials, we’ll let you figure out the rest. Anyway, it seems many fans thought JMFJ wasn’t living up to his reputation, and the careless turnovers in his own zone added fuel to the fire. But the absence of fellow blue-liner Drew Doughty to a concussion seems to have opened the door for Johnson to shine, and his six assists on the five-game road trip were a big reason the Kings finished 3-2-0.

4. Power-play surge – The power play seems to be back on track and Kings coach Terry Murray credits the team’s newfound determination to recover loose pucks and take more shots on goal. "The penalty killing in the league is so aggressive and so physical," Murray said. "If your support is not there by the three forwards, in particular, to recover pucks, than there’s an easy exit. We all felt we were just off-base a little bit."

5. Sound familiar? – New Jersey is experimenting with rookie Alexander Vasyunov on the front line, aligning him with Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias. The chemistry seemed to work Friday night in a 2-1 victory against the Ducks, as Vasyunov came through with an assist on Elias’ winning goal. Murray tried something similar with Andrei Loktionov, moving him up front with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown in his second NHL game. Murray seems to have worn thin on that idea, however.