Preview: Dallas Stars (16-16-8) @ Los Angeles Kings (20-16-4)
The Kings wrap up their season series with Dallas tonight, having split the series with one win and one overtime loss apiece. The Stars handed the Kings their first loss in 3-on-3 overtime, with the Kings playing Dallas on the end of a back-to-back and in their final game before the holiday break. In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising that game got to overtime at all.
In two meetings with Dallas, the Kings have six goals. Jeff Carter has three of them. (The other three: Tanner Pearson, Alec Martinez, and Nic Dowd. So, two of the usual suspects and one surprise.) We can discuss whether Jeff Carter is using some sort of witchcraft, demon summoning, lasers, fancy bionics, or what to produce at such an amazingly consistent rate this season, but Los Angeles’ leading scorer is responsible for about 22% of their goals, and shutting him down is exactly what the Stars -- and every opponent -- are going to try to do.
The Kings continue to rotate right wingers in an attempt to both find balance in their lines, as well as trying to get Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar going. Trevor Lewis pops up to the top line -- the Gaborik/Kopitar/Brown line is done for now -- which isn’t the worst idea. While Lewis hasn’t been showing up on the scoresheet (he’s got one point, an assist, in his last ten games) he’s strong defensively. And if that top line isn’t going to score, then they should at least help drive possession so that the one line that is getting goals can do their job.
The Stars are still without Jamie Benn, nursing a lower body injury. Benn has missed two games, which is fairly remarkable given his durability over his career so far. He’s also one of those “play through injury” guys and and clearly has not been at his best throughout the season.
Hockey media likes to harp on the Stars’ goaltending as the cause of their woes -- they’re four points behind the Kings for the last wild card spot in the west -- but injuries have been the real story this season. They’ve spent little time this season with all of their stars (pun vaguely intended) in the lineup. Players are starting to filter back in, but even though the west is weaker than it’s been in past years, it’s still hard to claw back up into a playoff spot.
And if injuries weren’t bad enough, special teams problems are plaguing the Stars. Their penalty kill has plummeted to 29th in the league (75.2% on the season) and their power play is similarly dismal, sitting at 17th (17.2% on the season). Compare that to last season, when the Stars -- and all of their healthy players -- were top ten in both categories (fourth on the power play, tenth on the penalty kill).
So if you’re looking for a real key to tonight’s game: get the Stars in the box. Sure, the Kings’ power play hasn’t been any better than theirs, but it’s a chance. Maybe whatever magic Jeff Carter’s been working will come through there, too.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Gaborik - Kopitar - Lewis
Pearson - Carter - Brown
Clifford - Dowd - Setoguchi
King - Shore - Nolan
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
McNabb - Greene
Hudler - Spezza - Seguin
Roussel - Eakin -Eaves
Shore - Faksa - Sharp
Korpikoski - Cracknell - Ritchie
Lindell - Klingberg
Hamhuis - Oleksiak
Oduya - Benn
Opposing Preview: Defending Big D