Preview: Los Angeles Kings (15-12-2) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (20-7-3)
Tonight’s a quick turn around time for the Kings, who shook off their Buffalo-housed demons to a well-deserved win last night in Detroit.
Of course, the Kings aren’t going to find quite an easy team to roll over as they did in the Red Wings. The reigning Stanley Cup champions don’t look like they’ve lost a single step since last season, have won seven games in a row (and eight of their last ten) and are sitting in second place in the NHL, one point behind the Blackhawks with two games in hand. They’ve got the second-best home record in the league, are top five in goal differential, lead all teams in goals per game, and -- oh yeah, there’s Sidney Crosby, too. If there’s any weakness, it’s special teams, with a decent power play (10th) but a lackluster penalty kill (25th), but even that hasn’t seemed to be a significant knock against the Pens.
Their biggest challenge tonight might be the loss of Kris Letang, out for a few weeks with a lower body injury. Defense pairings below are just a guess based off of Internet Chatter, given that the team didn’t hold a full morning skate today. Derrick Pouliot was recalled from the AHL, making just his second appearance for Pittsburgh this season. Pouliot is a high-ceiling prospect who’s had some squandered training camps and missed chances to impress at the NHL level. With the opportunity to get an extended look on the blue line due to Letang’s absence, the young defenseman has a chance now to prove he has what it takes to be an every-day player.
The Kings should be feeling pretty good about their game after a dominating performance in Detroit. The Penguins are going to want to play their game -- speedy, open, awful pretty. None of their four lines can be taken for granted. The Kings are going to have to exploit weak spots where they can find them, starting with those reshuffled pairings on the blue line. With players like Tyler Toffoli and Anze Kopitar starting to find the back of the net again, and depth guys like Nic Dowd chipping in, they could be finding their groove again.
A road trip like this can be brutal for a team, but maybe there’s something to all this forced togetherness.
Aw, heck, let’s just end this with looking at Nic Dowd’s goal celebration from last night. Congrats, Nic, you’re my new favorite.
One more time with all the feelings. pic.twitter.com/YMfuHEJzPb— #LAKings (@LAKings) December 16, 2016
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Pearson - Kopitar - Lewis
King - Carter - Toffoli
Gaborik - Dowd - Brown
Clifford - Shore - Nolan
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Gilbert
Martinez - Greene
Sheary - Crosby - Hornqvist
Hagelin - Malkin - Kessel
Kunitz - Bonino - Rust
Wilson - Cullen - Kuhnhackl
Dumoulin - Letang
Maatta - Daley
Cole - Schultz