After a strong start to the season, the Kings have had more “burn the tape and forget about it” sorts of games lately than they should be completely comfortable with. A reset against the inconsistent Florida Panthers could have been the spark that the team needed, but a rare off-night from Jonathan Quick the next night against the Vegas Golden Knights put the kibosh on that idea. As usual, the Kings responded well after falling behind in the game, but: too little, too late. It’s a familiar story for this team.
They have a chance to reset their reset tonight against the WInnipeg Jets, only, see, there’s this little thing called: The Winnipeg Jets Actually Look Really Good This Season. They sit second in the Central and have seven wins in their last ten games. One of the Jets’ most consistent problems has been poor goaltending, and they seem to have finally cracked that riddle this season. Connor Hellebucyk, in his third year in the league, has bounced back from a fairly poor 2016-17 season, currently posting a .925 Sv% in all situations. His presence in net has really been driving the Jets’ success, which is even more remarkable since Hellebucyk’s status as starter was put into question when the Jets went out and acquired Steve Mason in the offseason.
Mason is who the Kings will face tonight. Mason’s season hasn’t been nearly as good as Hellebucyk’s, particularly as he struggled to start the season and essentially lost his starter and/or 1A spot to the youngster. But, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. Mason’s started five games so far, with one period played in relief. In his first three, he allowed a combined 16 goals and was pulled early once. In his two starts since then, he’s allowed three goals -- one game ended with an overtime loss, and the other was a win. (In one period of relief against Vegas, Mason stopped all five shots that he saw.) So Mason is clearly trending upwards, just in time to visit Los Angeles.
A hot goalie isn’t all the Kings need to worry about. The Jets are an aggressive team, particularly on the rush, which is something which has given the Kings fits this season in other games. The downside of the Kings’ defensemen being more involved in offensive play is that it gives ample opportunity for the opposing team to go, well, the opposite way. They also lead the league with four shorthanded goals, so the Kings’ top rated penalty kill
If that’s not enough, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler continue to be incredibly underrated players. Playing together on the top line, they’ve each racked up 25 point. Rookie Kyle Connor plays on the opposite wing, and he’s come out firing after a stint in the AHL. They’ve got Patrik Laine on the second line, and after a streaky start to his season, he’s gotten right back to scoring, with an eight-game points streak (six goals, three assists) snapped just this week against Nashville.
For the Kings, the experiment of splitting up Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli seems to have ended, if lines from practice are any indication. Granted, based on the last game, John Stevens started trying to get any combination of line together that might work at all, particularly among the top nine, so it’s possible that we see some weird combinations tonight, too.
L.A at VGK, 19 Nov— Hockey Viz (@HockeyViz) November 20, 2017
Lines, icetime, and zone usage pic.twitter.com/xB54yglTsq
Nic Dowd draws back in for his third consecutive game, which is somewhat of a feat considering how often he’s been in and out of the lineup. He got his first point of the season as a primary assist on Jonny Brodzinski’s first career goal. The two played on teams together both in college and on the Ontario Reign, so perhaps their familiarity with one another will help keep them together as a successful line. Veteran Jussi Jokinen holds down the opposing wing slot. It’s not a fourth line that’s going to get a ton of minutes, but if they can be consistent in that nine-ish minutes that they play, it will go a long way to providing some extra stability at the bottom of the lineup.
Jonathan Quick starts, and has hopefully shaken off whatever had him looking so off in Las Vegas.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Kempe - Toffoli
Andreoff - Shore - Lewis
Jokinen - Dowd - Brodzinski
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Folin
MacDermid - Martinez
Connor - Scheifele - Wheeler
Ehlers - Little - Laine
Copp - Lowry - Tanev
Perreault - Hendricks - Armia
Morrissey - Trouba
Chiarot - Byfuglien
Kulikov - Myers
Opposing Preview: Arctic Ice Hockey