We are just two games away from the playoffs, and after numerous call-ups, injuries, and trades, you would think the Los Angeles Kings would have figured out their go-to lineup by now. You would be mistaken. With Martian Gaborik injured, ten players seem to have locked down lineup spots. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Vincent Lecavalier will be your top three centers. Milan Lucic, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson will be in the top six. Dustin Brown, Kris Versteeg, Dwight King, and Trevor Lewis could fill a few different spots, but barring a major surprise, they'll get in as well.
That's ten spots accounted for, and with Marian Gaborik's return still in question and Jordan Nolan more and more unlikely to be a factor, there are two places up for grabs. Let's take a look at the four players who could fill those boxes.
Regardless of the healthy scratch on Tuesday, Clifford appears to be the most likely of these players to be in the lineup for Game 1. He played 24 playoff games in 2013-14, he's been a consistent lineup presence this season when not injured, and Daryl Evans surely wasn't the only person to hypothesize that Clifford was only out of Tuesday's lineup to let Sutter see all his options. Having said that, the winger spot that was his to lose is very much in jeopardy thanks to...
In Sutter-speak: "He's been good. Real good." Set aside the surprise goal-scoring (three goals, four points in six games) and you're still left with a player who has been putting up career-best possession numbers since he returned to the lineup on March 21. Whether or not it's a temporary uptick, it's impressive.
Andy Andreoff CF% By Game
Even his worst game of this nine-game stretch was essentially equivalent to an average game for him last year. Andreoff has been playing on the wing as of late, and he's looked like he belongs. It's an interesting quandary: if you want Clifford to stay in, Andreoff might have to play center; can you bank on continued good performances?
"Hey, I heard you talking about good possession numbers! Remember me?"
If we didn't, we'd certainly remember after watching LA out-attempt Calgary 15-3 with Shore on the ice last night. That's never been in question, though. What is is whether Shore can provide any sort of lift to the Los Angeles Kings when he's out there. In 31 games in the year 2016, Shore has been on the ice for five goals for and seven goals against at even strength. Shore is by far the safest option at center, sure, but he's not a tantalizing one right now. That bore itself out in our Rank the Players poll last night; despite the shot differential, he was a distant 19th place. Out of 19.
Does Dowd even have a chance to crack the lineup? He played four mostly solid games for LA before having a down night against Calgary on March 31, and we haven't seen him since. A drop in Shore's form gives him an opening, but I don't see Sutter leaning on Dowd in the playoffs. Having said that, if Darryl was ever going to go with a rookie over a relative veteran, the poised 25-year-old fits the mold.
Four players, two spots... that leaves six possible combinations for you below. The first five are pretty straightforward; one center, one winger. The sixth could work, but only if you move Vincent Lecavalier or (heaven forbid) Jeff Carter to wing. Weigh in and tell us why you chose what you chose in the comments.