Kings-Devils Preview

It’s still early, but the New Jersey Devils feel good that

they’re off to a better home start than last season.

The Los Angeles Kings are starting to feel better after kicking

off their season in Europe.

The Devils close out a three-game homestand Thursday night when

they meet the Kings for the first of two matchups over the next 13

days.

New Jersey went 0-5-2 on home ice to open last season – its

first without a playoff berth since 1995-96 – but the club won’t

have to worry about matching that awful start following Monday’s

4-2 victory over Carolina.

Led by Ilya Kovalchuk’s goal and two assists and two goals from

first-year captain Zach Parise, the Devils rebounded from

Saturday’s season-opening 3-0 loss to Philadelphia.

“You want to get as many wins as you can early because the

season always goes up and down,” said Kovalchuk, the team leader

with three points.

First-year coach Peter DeBoer knows that if his Devils are going

to avoid some of the pitfalls from last season, Kovalchuk and

Parise will have to deliver. Each found the back of the net in the

third period Monday.

“When you are 2-2 going into the third period, those are the two

guys you are counting on,” DeBoer said.

The Kings are expecting Anze Kopitar to bounce back from his

25-goal season – his second-worst output in five years – and so

far, the center has delivered with team highs of three goals and

four points.

Kopitar scored and then assisted on Jack Johnson’s winner in

Friday’s 3-2 overtime victory over the New York Rangers in

Stockholm. He followed that performance by scoring twice in a 4-2

loss to Buffalo on Saturday in Berlin – the NHL’s first

regular-season game in Germany.

First-year King Mike Richards also looked energized over the

weekend, scoring a goal and recording an assist in the opener, and

coach Terry Murray was glad to see much of the same from his club

during its third practice in Maryland on Wednesday.

“… When I saw the players on the ice today, it was a clear

indication that we’ve readjusted to North American time,” Murray

told the Kings’ official website. “There was a lot of energy,

enthusiasm and jump on the ice in the practice. So we have to

assume, I think, that everything is OK.”

Everything appears to be fine with Dustin Penner’s lower-body

injury, and the forward will likely make his season debut on the

Richards-Dustin Brown line.

“We’re pretty deep down the middle and down the wing, so

whatever combination ends up working best for the team, I think

that’s what we’ll stick with,” said Penner, who finished with just

two goals in 19 games last season after being acquired from

Edmonton.

It’s uncertain if the Kings will face Martin Brodeur or backup

Johan Hedberg. Brodeur, who turned away 29 shots in the season

opener, is 8-6-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average in 15 starts

against the Kings. He made 20 saves in the only matchup between

these clubs last season, as the Devils lost 3-1 in Los Angeles on

Oct. 30.

Jonathan Quick, who stopped 39 shots in that game to win his

third consecutive start against New Jersey, could be in net after

Jonathan Bernier got the nod Saturday.

The Kings, 6-2-1 in their last nine games in New Jersey, host

the Devils on Oct. 25 in the teams’ final matchup of 2011-12.