Preview: Chicago Blackhawks (14-6-2) @ Los Angeles Kings (11-9-1)
We haven’t done proper introductions of the new staff yet, so I’ll take this moment to let you in on a secret: I’ve spent the past almost-twelve years living in Chicago. My story of becoming a Kings fan is long and weird and probably better suited for another time, but there’s still a part of me that looks away whenever I’m at Staples Center and the pre-game video shows that puck bouncing in off of Nick Leddy. (Don’t worry; now I just kind of squint at the video while doing Alec Martinez Jazz Hands with my friends.) My general hope for when these teams meet is a good, competitive match so I have to take the least amount of grief possible from my friends on either side of the rivalry.
That hasn’t worked out too well lately, though -- at least, not at the United Center, where Chicago shut out the Kings 3-0 earlier this season, a stark reversal from the 5-0 drubbing the Kings handed them at the end of last season.
In fact, the last time these two teams met, Chicago didn’t exactly get the Kings at their best. The Kings were in the last game of a back-to-back, having played in St. Louis the night before, and had just lost Brayden McNabb on defense. The tables are turning, however, and this time the Blackhawks roll into town on little rest, having played a demanding game against Anaheim.
Chicago will take the ice without Jonathan Toews for the second game in a row, after he was injured earlier this week playing against San Jose. The team managed to pull together and outlast Anaheim, who piled on fifteen shots in their bid to make a third period comeback. And while Toews hasn’t been as effective offensively as the team would hope, one thing he’s consistently excelled at is face-offs. Without Toews, Chicago won only 27% of its face-offs against the Ducks. Face-offs aren’t everything, but they certainly help; look for them to continue to struggle in that respect against the Kings. Also sitting out tonight are Jordin Tootoo (seen in a walking boot after blocking a shot in Anaheim) and veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival, who is currently rotating playing time with rookie Michal Kempny.
For the Kings -- Is it too much to hope for, having both Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik return to playing form? Gaborik has said that he’s hopeful he could play tonight, and he took line rushes with an actual line. Gaborik's activation from Injured Reserve today seems to signal his return, but Darryl Sutter has been predictably coy about his lineup, insisting that both Gaborik and Tom Gilbert (potentially in for Matt Greene) will be game-time decisions. The Kings have really come together since that early season matchup in Chicago, while the Blackhawks have been inconsistent at best lately. Look for the Kings to try to exploit Chicago’s lack of experience, especially on the blue line, as they try to extend their win streak to five, and send the Blackhawks home with a losing record on their annual Thanksgiving road trip.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
King - Kopitar - Lewis
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Brown - Dowd - Setoguchi
Gaborik/Clifford - Lewis - Nolan
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
Gravel - Greene/Gilbert
Panarin - Anisimov - Kane
Hartman - Hinostroza - Hossa
Motte - Schmaltz - Panik
Rasmussen - Kruger - Desjardins
Keith - Hjalmarsson
Kempny - Seabrook
Campbell - Forsling
Opposing Preview: Second City Hockey