How to Watch and What to Watch
Your preview-writer is operating on east coast time, currently, and so missed most of the last tilt against the Sharks. First, they were winning when I fell asleep, so I’m sorry if that loss is on me. Second, kudos to any of you east coast Kings fans; not even being done with the second period when it’s approaching midnight is brutal, and you are made of stronger stuff than I.
A look back at that game shows a Kings team that played their own game for about 20 minutes, and then let the Sharks take over for 40. Two weird goals, including one deflected in off a skate, were the difference makers against the Sharks. Add in Martin Jones having a stellar game against his old team, and you wind up with two points being handed to a divisional rival.
The Kings have a chance tonight to snatch two Pacific points back by beating the Canucks, which is sometimes easier said than done. Despite fairly easily dispatching the Canucks in two of three games in the preseason -- particularly the China games, which featured nearly full NHL rosters for both teams -- there’s always been a little something about the Canucks that’s stymied the Kings. Last year’s squad went 2-2-0 against the Canucks, with one of those wins coming in the shoot-out.
Last year’s Canucks were very, incredibly, astoundingly terrible, finishing the season at the bottom of the Pacific (division, not Ocean) with just 69 points. And while the Canucks have been stringing together enough points to stay relevant so far (a five-game points streak at the end of October helped a lot) they’re still a deeply flawed team.
Of course, they’re a deeply flawed team with the Sedins on the third (or second, depending on who you ask) line. Most teams would probably take that, even though the Sedins are clearly not the players they once were.
Something that is going right for the Canucks is their top line, however. Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser lead the team in points and have been a deadly combination. Baertschi, who did some damage against the Kings in the preseason, has proved that he can be a thorn in the side of more teams than just the Kings.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, their top line’s been the only one that’s been doing any damage. Players like Thomas Vanek (5G, 4A) and Sam Gagner (2G, 3A) were brought on to bolster depth scoring. But Vanek’s scored two goals in his past ten games; Gagner, who revitalized his career last season in Columbus, also only has two goals in his past ten games. Any scoring at all, be it from the defense, bottom lines, or the power play (28th in the league, 14.1% conversion rate) is what the Canucks are looking for tonight.
The Kings will most likely shuffle their lines up again tonight. Per morning skate, Mike Cammalleri (since traded to Edmonton) and Nic Dowd both stayed out on the ice, which means that Mike Amadio will most likely remain in the lineup. Andrew Crescenzi, called up this morning from Ontario, could make his debut on the fourth line. Crescenzi isn’t a prolific scorer in the AHL, but has been a true leader in the Reign’s locker room over the past several seasons, and is largely rolled out as a penalty kill/faceoff specialist. He’s not the most likely call-up, given that the the team isn’t particularly struggling on either of those items, but if he does indeed play tonight, it’s a well deserved reward for a respected player.
There could be some changes on the defense, as no defenders stayed late, giving the option to insert Christian Folin back into the lineup. With a tight schedule through the weekend, including a back-to-back, look for some small roster tinkering to get everyone some playing time.
Before the Sharks game, I called on the Kings to score first. They’ve done well with a lead this season; the Sharks game was the first time they lost when scoring the first goal. (The flip side to that is that it was just the seventh time that they’ve scored first.) While this team has shown a knack for being able to come back from behind -- they’re 5-3-2 on the season when their opponent scores first -- it’s really not something to get in the habit of doing.
So, some specific directions tonight: Get on the board first. And then keep the lead.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Kempe - Toffoli
Andreoff - Shore - Lewis
Crescenzi - Laich - Amadio
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
MacDermid - Fantenberg
Baertschi - Horvat - Boeser
Gaunce - Sutter - Dorsett
D. Sedin - H. Sedin - Eriksson
Vanek - Granlund - Gagner
Edler - Pouliot
Del Zotto - Biega
Hutton - Gudbranson
Opposing Preview: Nucks Misconduct