Now that the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings are well out of the playoff picture, they're beginning to play a lot better heading into their matchup on Saturday afternoon in Southern California.
The Kings, who reside in last place in the Western Conference standings, own a 4-2-1 record intheir past seven games following a 2-1 win against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.
The Devils, who are last place in the Metropolitan Division, have earned points in four straight games (3-0-1) and 12 of their past 15 (8-3-4).
Kings coach Todd McLellan told reporters after the win against Pittsburgh that his forwards are getting better at understanding their forechecking responsibilities, which is making it tougher for teams to build momentum coming out of their zone.
"Teams are still going to get opportunities, but they're not free ones," he said. "At least we're near our checks, or we have the ability to disrupt a free rush."
McLellan said he eventually would like to see the Kings possess the puck for longer stretches, rather than just dump it in and go on the forecheck.
"Right now, the guys are playing how they need to play to win," he said. "Part of developing the future is gaining some of those characteristics."
The Kings could be playing a little looser now that the veterans realize they'll be finishing the season in Los Angeles.
Trevor Lewis, who was rumored to be on the block in the weeks leading up to Monday's trade deadline, scored against the Penguins.
"The people that are in the locker room right now, the older players, the veterans, we've addressed all of them, and they're aware of what their roles could be and how hard they have to play in practice, so that everybody else can keep their eyes on them," McLellan said. "We've got the leaders and the followers. We've got to do it all together."
The Devils were trying to win a season-high fourth straight game on Thursday night, but they couldn't hold a two-goal lead after the first period and dropped a 3-2 decision in overtime to the San Jose Sharks.
"In this league, you can't afford to play just 40 or 30 minutes," Devils forward Nico Hischier told reporters afterward. "You have to play a full 60 minutes."
New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider started the past two games, but Mackenzie Blackwood likely will be in net against the Kings.
Blackwood had 37 saves in a 3-0 win against visiting Los Angeles on Feb. 8, marking his second straight shutout.
Schneider was 0-4-1 with a 4.59 goals-against average and .852 save percentage in six games when he was placed on waivers on Nov. 18. He was sent down to Binghamton of the American Hockey League after clearing a day later.
Schneider was recalled from Binghamton on Feb. 21, three days before Louis Domingue was traded to the Vancouver Canucks.
The Kings recalled defenseman Mikey Anderson from Ontario of the AHL on Friday. He's expected to make his NHL debut against his brother, Joey, a right wing on the Devils.
Mikey Anderson was paired with Matt Roy at practice on Friday, replacing Joakim Ryan in the lineup.
Ryan is a combined minus-4 in the past three games.
"There are nights you'll come out because of your play, but a lot of nights you'll come out just for rotational purposes," McLellan said.
--Field Level Media