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.
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