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Game Day Preview #38, Los Angeles Kings @ San Jose Sharks

Didn’t we just do this? Am I losing my mind? Is this Hockey Groundhog Day?

San Jose Sharks v Los Angeles Kings

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (18-15-4) @ San Jose Sharks (23-13-1)

Game Time: 7:00 PM Pacific
TV: NBCSN
Radio: KABC AM 790
Stream: NBC

I’m going to go ahead and take like 1% credit for the Kings’ New Year’s Eve win over the Sharks, thanks to my perhaps overly pessimistic game preview. Credit where credit’s due, I’d like to think I gently shamed the team into looking more like the team I fell into “It’s Complicated” status a few years ago than -- well, whatever they’ve been recently.

You can thank me later.

The Sharks are certainly going to want revenge for the last game. While they made it a nailbiter in the last period, the Kings truly controlled every aspect of the game. Whether the Sharks are going to respond with goals, or with physicality, remains to be seen. These two teams have never been friends, and the last matchup started to get fairly chippy, particularly between Joe Thornton and Dustin Brown.

Michael Haley, who played a team low 8:36 in the last meetup, remains in the lineup, still favored over Matt Nieto. He already fought Kyle Clifford once, bringing the element the Sharks wanted from him in the last game. It’s not too hard to imagine a scenario where Haley drops the gloves again, no matter which way the game is tilting.

The Sharks will see additional changes on the back end as well, with Marc-Edouard Vlasic still out and now David Schlemko being scratched with an upper body injury. Mirco Mueller makes his season debut and Dylan DeMelo will get another game in. While they’re both fine players, they’re also inexperienced (DeMelo has spent most of the season as a healthy scratch, and Mueller has spent most of the past two seasons developing in the AHL) and could make for more of an adventure than usual for the Sharks blue line.

On the Kings’ blue line, it’s easy to talk about the veteran trio of Doughty, Martinez, and Muzzin, but the newer faces have been welcome additions, too. Nearly halfway through the season, Kevin Gravel has continued to acquit himself well. He’s getting third pairing minutes but in the last game, led all defensemen in Corsi at even strength (71.43%; the next highest defenseman was Jake Muzzin at 61.29%). As the only defenseman -- in fact, the only rostered player -- eligible for waivers, he’s the most likely to be sent back down whenever the Kings need to open up another roster spot. He’s been doing everything he can to stay in the lineup, and another strong game against the Kings’ northern rivals can only help him plead his case. Derek Forbort has been progressing nicely as well. He was about middle of the pack in terms of possession, but has increasingly been showing his hockey IQ, particularly with smooth little stickhandling plays like this move:

On the second line, Devin Setoguchi hasn’t been doing much with his opportunity next to Jeff Carter, but things have been working out great for Tanner Pearson. Pearson routinely is among the team leaders in shots on goal -- in the last ten games, he’s tied for first on the Kings with 32 shots (unsurprisingly, Jeff Carter’s the other with 32) and he’s second in points (two goals, four assists, tied with Alec Martinez). He could be heating up at just the right time, which is nothing but good news for the Kings.

Peter Budaj was the first goalie off the ice at today’s morning skate, so look for him to try to repeat his performance against the Sharks tonight.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Gaborik - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Setoguchi
Clifford - Dowd - Lewis
King - Shore - Nolan

Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
McNabb - Gravel

Budaj
(Zatkoff)

San Jose Sharks

Marleau - Thornton - Pavelski
Labanc - Couture - Boedker
Meier - Tierney - Donskoi
Karlsson - Haley - Ward

Martin - Burns
Mueller - Braun
Dillon - DeMelo

Jones
(Dell)

Opposing Preview: Fear the Fin