Devils-Kings Preview

The Los Angeles Kings knew they would face raised expectations

this season after a surprising playoff run.

Even with an injury to their best defenseman, they’ve answered

those challenges thus far heading into a home game Saturday night

against the New Jersey Devils.

Los Angeles (7-3-0) ended a six-year playoff drought by posting

101 points before losing to Vancouver in six games in the first

round. While the Kings may not be ready to challenge San Jose for

Pacific Division supremacy, they have yet to encounter the type of

letdown that occasionally plagues young teams.

A sign of the Kings’ growth was finishing a five-game road trip

with a 3-2-0 record despite the absence of budding star Drew

Doughty. Los Angeles capped its travels on a positive note with

perhaps its most complete game of the five, a 5-2 victory at Dallas

on Thursday.

“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,” coach Terry Murray

said. ”We were doing all the right things.”

Alexei Ponikarvosky and Wayne Simmonds scored nine seconds apart

in the second period to snap a 1-all tie, and defenseman Jack

Johnson had three assists – giving him six on the swing. The third

overall pick in 2005 had an expanded role on the blue line after

Doughty suffered a concussion Oct. 20.

“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.”

Murray told the Kings’ official website Doughty will not play in

this game, but is optimistic the 2010 Norris Trophy finalist will

be available Thursday against Tampa Bay.

Los Angeles is seeking its first 4-0 start at home since Wayne

Gretzky’s first season with the Kings in 1988-89.

The Devils (3-7-1) snapped a three-game losing streak Friday by

holding off Anaheim 2-1. Martin Brodeur turned aside 27 shots, and

Patrik Elias converted a feed from Alexander Vasyunov for the

go-ahead goal 1:54 into the third period.

“We needed it real bad, because this road trip could be tough

for us,” said Ilya Kovalchuk, who was courted by the Kings in the

offseason as he contemplated his free agent options. “If we play

the way we did here, we’ll be OK. We played a solid defensive game,

and we got two points for it.”

Jamie Langenbrunner ended a 10-game goalless drought with his

first of the season. The Devils, who have failed to score more than

three goals in any game, are 1 for 24 with the man advantage on the

road and 3 for 37 overall.

Brodeur is 4-2-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average lifetime at

Los Angeles.