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Game Day Preview #12, Los Angeles Kings @ St. Louis Blues

Tonight: a fight for best in the West.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (9-1-1) @ St. Louis Blues (9-2-1)

How to Watch and What to Watch

The Kings in a fight for the number one spot, not only in the West, but in the entire league? This feels weird.

Through at least the modern Cup-winning years, the Kings haven’t really been thought of as a regular season team. They’ve been a “squeak into the playoffs and then see what happens” team. The last -- and only -- time the Kings finished at the top of their division? 1991, when they finished atop the rankings of the Smythe Division.

Yes, it’s a very long season. We’re on game twelve. The likelihood of the Kings staying in this number one spot all year is probably low. But for a team which was written off by many pundits before the season even started -- well. Let’s just enjoy this while we have it, alright?

The Kings’ competition for that number one spot is, of course, the St. Louis Blues, who are off to their own impressively hot start this season. They’re a surprisingly deep team this year, and while they’ll never truly leave behind their identity of being a heavy, physical team to play against, they’ve been most guys who can actually play and provide that physical presence, rather than a collection of fourth liners who play three minutes and sit in the penalty box for ten. Only three players on the team have been held off the scoresheet over the team’s past twelve games, and none of them have been regular every-day players. Rookie Oskar Sundqvist (acquired from the Penguins in the still-perplexing Ryan Reaves trade) is the only regular player without a goal this season.

And they’re not having problems scoring either. The Blues have scored two or less goals only four times so far (one of those games was still a win, and another went to overtime). They’re averaging just over three goals a game, and perhaps the only thing that’s surprising is that it’s not Vladimir Tarasenko who’s leading them. The team’s leader in goals and overall points is Jaden Schwartz (with seven goals and 15 points total). Tarasenko’s not far behind, though, and it’s only a matter of time until he unleashes an appropriate amount of goal-scoring fury.

One place the Kings may look to take advantage of the Blues? On the power play. The Blues’ penalty kill is near the bottom of the league, with about a 77% success rate. They’re fairly average in terms of penalties taken (43 on the season; compared to the Kings’ 41) but in a game that’s sure to be more physical than usual, there’s a big chance here for the Kings to draw some penalties and put the power play back to work.

After some overtime heroics from Tyler Toffoli, the Kings walked out of Boston with two points, and a road trip on which they’ve gathered four wins in five games. There are certainly aspects of the team’s play that need worked on -- slow starts and some sloppy play haven’t burned them yet, largely because of Jonathan Quick’s absurdly great start -- but seeing the resilience and energy from the team in all situations has been a welcome change after the past few years.

Don’t expect many changes in the lineup tonight. It’s possible that Oscar Fantenberg draws back in; his scratch in the last game was due to back spasms, and there don’t appear to have been any updates on his status. If he is back, I would expect Kurtis MacDermid to sit again; after a few solid games at the end of the Canada trip, his ice time dipped again in Boston to under ten minutes. Despite ostensibly being paired with Christian Folin, he seemed to bounce around the defensive pairings, seeing limited spot shifts as the game went on.

The Blues and Kings are teams cut from the same cloth, so look for a physical, grind-it-out battle. May the grittiest team win.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Kempe - Toffoli
Cammalleri - Laich - Lewis
Andreoff - Amadio - Dowd

Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
MacDermid - Folin

Quick
(Kuemper)

St. Louis Blues

Sobotka - Stastny - Steen
Schwartz - Schenn - Tarasenko
Paajarvi - Sundqvist - Bennett
Upshall - Brodziak - Jaskin

Edmundson - Pietrangelo
Gunnarsson - Parayko
Bortuzzo - Dunn

Allen
(Husso)

Opposing Preview: St. Louis Game Time