Preview: Minnesota Wild (23-9-4) @ Los Angeles Kings (19-16-4)
How to Watch and What to Watch For
Apparently writing about both a) my local weather and b) how easy it should have been for a Kings win over Detroit last time caused both to go a little topsy turvy. It managed to get even colder here and the Kings had a dreadful performance against the Red Wings. I should really know better by now. I believe over on the game day thread, we assigned my Official Percentage of Blame for the loss at about 7%, thanks to my overly optimistic game preview. It’s only fair.
The Kings have had a day to regroup from that loss, where a dismal first period doomed them. We’ve heard that one before, of course. A slow start leads to having to play catch-up against a dialed-in goalie, and then, well, here we are.
While the Kings mixed up their lines in practice yesterday -- among other changes, Jeff Carter skated to the right of Anze Kopitar -- it turns out that was a planned special teams practice day. That said, the lines looked plausible, and Carter’s certainly played wing for Kopitar before, particularly when Sutter decides faceoff wins are less important than getting some extra firepower on Kopitar’s line (or when Carter’s been coming back from a hand/wrist injury).
So while there’s a chance of second line center Nic Dowd, it may not be too high. Despite the less than stellar play of the team as a whole against the Red Wings, there was very little line juggling in the game. So for better or worse, there may very well be no changes coming. I’m using the usual game lines down below, but also don’t be surprised if the lines look slightly different to what we’re used to seeing.
The Wild, meanwhile, have been having a fantastic season. They’re one of a small handful of teams to not have lost yet in regulation, have the second best goal differential in the league, and are just three points back from Chicago at the top of the Western conference. Despite very little change in personnel -- their biggest change was behind the bench, of course, with the addition of Bruce Boudreau -- this looks like a completely different Wild team.
They’re getting contributions from all over the lineup: seven players have broken 20 points on the season, and four have double digits in goals (with two more sitting on nine goals). Veteran leaders like Eric Staal and captain Mikko Koivu are standing up and leading the way for their teammates. Staal bounced back from a mediocre 2015-16 campaign and Koivu’s recent play is doing a lot to shut down the whispers that he can’t keep up any more.
Outstanding person & leader Follow his determination & heart @mnwild and success will follow. https://t.co/2wUneVlX0p— Willie Mitchell (@Willie_Mitch33) January 7, 2017
Darcy Kuemper starts in goal, and even he’s bounced back from several lackluster seasons, particularly those times where he appeared to be thrust into a starters’ role when he wasn’t ready for it. The rehabilitation of Devan Dubnyk’s career’s done wonders for Kuemper, as well, who gets a lighter workload and the opportunity to study behind someone who’s almost surely on his way to another Vezina nomination. At any rate, Kuemper’s had a decent season so far, although the sentiment among WIld fans still seems to be “buckle up”.
We’ll see. Puck drop soon. Be sure to check into the game thread to decide how much of the outcome of today’s game is my fault.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Gaborik - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Setoguchi
Clifford - Dowd - Lewis
King - Shore - Nolan
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
McNabb - Gravel
Parise - Staal - Niederreiter
Granlund - Koivu - Zucker
Pominville - Haula - Coyle
Stewart - Graovac - Schroeder
Suter - Spurgeon
Brodin - Dumba
Scandella - Folin
Opposing Preview: Hockey Wilderness