|Devils bracing for red-hot Kings|
If the New Jersey Devils are to break out of their recent funk, they'll have to do so against the hottest team in the NHL when they host the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The Kings (20-8-3) are in the midst of a league-best eight-game winning streak. After missing the playoffs last season, the Kings sit atop the Pacific Division with 43 points, and their plus-29-goal differential is second-best in the NHL.
Tuesday's contest marks the first of a four-game East Coast road trip for the Kings that is not necessarily an advantage for New Jersey (16-9-4) since Los Angeles is 10-3-1 on the road and the Devils are only 6-5-2 at The Rock.
"It really doesn't matter what we've done to this point," Kings coach John Stevens told the team's website following practice on Monday. "This is an important trip to continue to get points and continue to try and play well and build our team game."
What the Kings have done recently is impressive. Their most recent defeat was Nov. 24, and they outscored the opposition 29-13 during the current winning streak. On Saturday, Tanner Pearson scored late in overtime to lead Los Angeles to its latest victory, 3-2 over the Carolina Hurricanes. Anze Kopitar picked up an assist and has nine points in the last five games.
That win Saturday also lifted the Kings to a 14-3-0 record against Eastern Conference teams and a perfect mark of 5-0-0 against teams from the Metropolitan Division, where the Devils reside.
"We just don't give up, whether we're down, whether we're up, and we're staying level -- not too high, no too up -- when things happen during games," explained Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty on the club's web site. "We have full confidence in our goaltending and we take pride in being a good defensive hockey team, and defense wins championships, so we're sticking to that."
It'll be up to the Devils to find a way to break through against the Kings, who own the league's best team defense, surrendering just 2.19 goals per game. New Jersey comes in having lost two straight and three of its last four, scoring only nine goals while allowing 16.
"We can't continue to make the same mistakes and put us in the same bad positions," Devils goalie Cory Schneider said after Monday's practice. "We haven't had our best recently, and we need a response from everybody."
New Jersey was outplayed in Saturday's 5-2 road loss to the New York Rangers. The previous night, the Devils surrendered an early 2-0 lead en route to a 5-3 loss on home ice to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"Every team in the league goes through that at some point," New Jersey winger Taylor Hall said of losing two straight in regulation for the first time this season. "It's about how quickly you can nip it in the bud and really get that part out of your game."
The Devils may be without veteran forward Marcus Johansson against the Kings. He did not practice Monday because of a lower-body injury that is believed to be to his ankle. Johansson limped noticeably during the Rangers game.
Kyle Palmieri skated on his own before Monday's practice and remains out of the Devils lineup with a broken right foot.
Still, Stevens remains impressed with the Devils.
"They pose an interesting challenge," said Stevens. "I think they play a really fast skill game, but I think they play a really hard game, too. It's not surprising they're not going away."