The Los Angeles Kings begin play Thursday night holding down a spot in the top eight of the Western Conference standings. If the season were to end today, they would break their drought of playoff futility.
However, where just a month ago they were leading the Western Conference, they enter tonight’s contest in the eighth position, just one point ahead of Detroit. The Kings are looking to reverse a recent downward trend that has seen them drop seven of their last ten contests.
This is the backdrop for tonight’s first home meeting of the season against their archrivals, the Anaheim Ducks. As if the rivalry aspect of the game wasn’t enough juice, the Ducks find themselves just four points behind the Kings, though the Kings do have one game in-hand.
Here’s a preview of today’s contest against the Ducks:
Anaheim Ducks (21-19-7), 49 points, 5th place in Pacific Division, 11th place in Western Conference
Who’s hot: Corey Perry. He has once again showed a dominant streak, with points in each of his last five games. He also had two points in the first meeting between these two clubs in back in December.
Who’s not: Scott Niedermayer is still the straw that stirs the drink for the Ducks, and these days it’s probably not fair to measure him in purely regular season numbers. But the 36-year old has just four goals and only 26 points in 47 games this season. He’s also a -13 rating, second worst on the team.
Who to watch for: Goaltenders. Jonas Hiller was named one of the top players of the week last week by the NHL, but will he play again tonight (second in two nights) or will the Ducks look to get him some rest by playing J.S. Giguere, who cannot be happy as the team’s number two goalie. My contention all season is that the Ducks will deal Giguere to one of the contending clubs, so a game like this will be a good showcase for him if he plays.
What to watch for: The Ducks have struggled against the other four teams in the Pacific Division so far this season. They may be unbeaten in their last six overall contests, but they posted have paltry 3-9-2 record against the Pacific Division this season. Anaheim is also just 7-11-5 away from Honda Center.
Player under the radar: James Wisniewski has been a big help to the Ducks on the blueline. He has played the third most minutes on the team, averaging almost 24 minutes per game, and has played solidly in picking up the minutes left behind by Chris Pronger’s off-season trade to Philadelphia. Wisniewski also has 20 points and has posted an unyielding +4 rating.
Matt Beleskey – Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan – Saku Koivu – Dan Sexton
Kyle Chipchura – Todd Marchant – Troy Bodie
Mike Brown – Petteri Nokelainen – Ryan Carter – Evgeny Artyukhin
Scott Niedermayer – James Wisniewski
Ryan Whitney – Steve Eminger
Brett Festerling – Sheldon Brookbank – Nick Boynton
Jonas Hiller (starter)
Teemu Selanne will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a broken jaw, which he suffered in third period of Wednesday’s victory over Boston. Joffrey Lupul is also out still recovering from back surgery. George Parros (hand) is a game time decision.
Los Angeles Kings (25-18-3), 53 points, 3rd place in Pacific Division, 8th place in Western Conference
Who’s hot: Drew Doughty. While many that haven’t seen him all season are surprised by his selection for Team Canada, those that have watched him all season aren’t. His play has continued to improve in all areas. Doughty has scored 10 points in his last eight contests, and has added eight assists over the last six games.
Who’s not: Dustin Brown. The captain is doing everything you could ask him to do except score goals. He has been great on the forecheck, is third in the league in hits, and has generated great scoring chances. However, he has just two goals and one assist during the last ten games, and he’s also a -4 during that stretch. If the Kings are going to re-establish themselves as a playoff team, Brown will need to find the back of the net more often.
Who to watch for: Peter Harrold. Terry Murray loves his versatility to be able to play on the fourth line as a checking forward, as well as being able to slot into his natural position as a defenseman, as he will for just the second time all season tonight. Harrold told me at practice he feels confident that there won’t be any ‘culture shock’ to be back on the blueline, but it’s something to watch for tonight.
What to watch for: The penalty killing unit. Here’s a situation where the league stats can sometimes be deceiving. The Kings enter the game ranked 20th in the league killing at 80.2% for the season. But that was due to a tough start the first few games of the season. The Kings have killed off 24 of their last 27 penalties, and have prevented a power play goal from being scored against them in 43 of their last 49 opportunities.
Player under the radar: Brandon Segal. He’s had to deal with being in a new system and with the injury bug. But over the last six games, he has scored two points, including his first career NHL goal, averaging about twelve shifts per game. His big frame allows him to deliver punishing hits on the forecheck, and his continued growth will only help the club longterm.
Line combos & D pairings:
Ryan Smyth – Anze Kopitar – Wayne Simmonds
Alexander Frolov – Michal Handzus – Dustin Brown
Brad Richardson – Jarret Stoll – Scott Parse
Raitis Ivanans – Oscar Moller – Brandon Segal
Rob Scuderi – Drew Doughty
Jack Johnson – Randy Jones
Sean O’Donnell – Peter Harrold
Jonathan Quick (starting)
Matt Greene, Teddy Purcell, Alec Martinez
Injury report – Terry Murray said the Greene was cleared to take part in off-ice conditioning workouts, meaning he is closer to returning to the lineup. However, still figure on about two weeks before his return. Davis Drewiske did some light skating before practice on Wednesday, and figure to still be about 1-2 weeks away from returning. Justin Williams and Andrei Loktionov are still out indefinitely on the injured reserve list.
The Los Angeles Kings Fantasy Camp begins today with campers getting ice time at Staples Center this afternoon against many legendary Kings players of the past. I’ll be chronicling their stories and experiences throughout the next three days on this site, on Hockeywood LA, and on my Twitter page.
Dean Lombardi was a guest on the Hockey Night in Canada radio show recently. Click here to listen to the interview. I also recently had a chance to sit with him and discuss a wide range of topics. I will be posting some articles based upon these discussions over the next few weeks.