Two teams with similar records, but lately headed in opposite directions, meet on Tuesday night when the New Jersey Devils host the Los Angeles Kings at the Prudential Center.
The Devils (20-19-9) are coming off a rousing 4-1 road victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, their fourth win in the past five games. New Jersey's recent success after a dreadful 4-9-2 month of December revived the team's playoff hopes.
In contrast, the Kings (22-21-4) have lost four games in a row, including a 3-2 defeat to the Rangers in New York on Monday. The four-game losing streak is Los Angeles' longest this season following a pair of earlier three-game skids.
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Struggling mightily offensively, the Kings have scored only six goals over the past four games. On Monday, they never held a lead, and their star players remained in scoring droughts while rugged forwards Jordan Nolan and Kyle Clifford scored the goals.
Kings captain Anze Kopitar has just one goal in his past 18 games and only four goals and 25 points in 41 games the entire season. He heads a long list of struggling forwards on the Kings roster, with Jeff Carter (24 goals) and Tanner Pearson (14 goals) the notable exceptions.
"That's been our theme this year," Nolan told the team's website. "We get a lot of good opportunities, but we just can't find a way to put it in. Sooner or later, we've got to find a way or it's going to be too late and we'll be out of the playoffs."
As was the case Monday against the Rangers, the Kings have tremendous difficulty in coming back from early deficits. Los Angeles is 8-16-2 this season when surrendering the game's first goal and 5-13-2 when trailing after one period.
"I think it's such a repetitive thing right now being down one going into the second (period)," Pearson said Monday. "You're just chasing the game. It's frustrating, and so we've got to get that (first) one and go from there."
The Devils know a thing or two about scoring woes. They have only 110 goals, tied for third fewest in the NHL.
Yet lately New Jersey is combining strong defensive play with a renewed attack on offense to produce successful results. The Devils scored four goals twice in the past week after reaching that total only once in nearly two months, dating to the first week of December.
Kyle Palmieri has been a key contributor offensively of late with three goals and two assists in the past five games. Rookie Miles Wood scored twice in the Saturday victory over the Flyers, while Taylor Hall (2-4-6) is riding a six-game point streak.
"When you look at the Philly game, we had contributions throughout the lineup," Devils coach John Hynes told NorthJersey.com. "We feel good about that game, but we would like to go into the (All-Star) break playing really good hockey. (We) have an opportunity to win games and get some points in these next two."
Hynes did not announce if Cory Schneider would be back between the pipes for the Devils on Tuesday. After missing the previous two games due to an illness, Schneider practiced on Monday and declared himself ready to start against the Kings. Backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid allowed four goals total in the win over the Flyers and a loss the previous night in Montreal to the Canadiens.
"(Schneider) looks good," Hynes said after practice. "We'll check him out ... and then we'll have both guys available (against the Kings) and then we'll make a decision."