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Game Day Preview #14, Nashville Predators @ Los Angeles Kings

We might have a battle of the back-up goalies tonight. Will there be all the goals?

NHL: Nashville Predators at Los Angeles Kings Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Nashville Predators (6-5-2) @ Los Angeles Kings (10-2-1)

Game Time: 7:30 PM, FS-W

The Kings face yet another team on the second half of a back-to-back; this time, the Predators come into town after facing the Ducks last night in Anaheim. Those teams squared off in their first meeting since last year’s Western Conference Final, where the Ducks failed once again to advance out of the West. The game wasn’t exactly a replica of their last meeting, but the Predators still came away victorious after nearly giving up a three-goal lead.

Pekka Rinne played last night for the Predators, and while it’s possible that the team would choose to start him in a back-to-back situation, all signs point towards Juuse Saros getting the start tonight. Saros, the potential future starter in Nashville, has lost all three of his starts this season, letting in at least three goals in each outing. Saros is a smaller goalie, so expect to hear lots of comparisons on the broadcast tonight over how his style may differ from the much larger Pekka RInne. His numbers last season (2.35 GAA, .923 Sv%) are much more favorable than his stats in his limited starts so far this year (4.36 GAA, .817 Sv%).

A big difference between this Predators team and last year’s? Scoring, The Predators right now are averaging 2.54 goals per game, ahead of only Edmonton and Calgary, and tied with Montreal. Last year, they ended the season eleventh overall, with 2.9 goals per game. At even strength (per Natural Stat Trick), the Predators are dead last in the league with just sixteen goals scored.

That means a lot of scoring is being done on the back of their power play, which is seventh in the league, converting over 23% of the time. When one of your power play units has Roman Josi, PK Subban, Ryan Johansen, and Filip Forsberg on it, that’s probably bound to happen. (Scott Hartnell is also on that unit. I assume he stands in front of the net.)

So if you want a key to success for the Kings tonight? Stay out of the box.

While the Kings’ penalty kill is currently first in the league (91.5%), discipline has been an issue as of late, particularly with a few unnecessary, behind the play calls, or the dreaded Offensive Zone Penalty. Tonight certainly isn’t the night to test out the officials on those stick infractions, not with the way Nashville has been with the man advantage.

Based on this morning’s informal skate, there won’t be many changes for the Kings, particularly in the forward lineup. There may be some change in the back in, with Folin, Fantenberg, and MacDermid all rotating in and out. But the biggest, and maybe most unexpected, change is that Darcy Kuemper looks to get the start in net tonight. It’s not a back-to-back for the Kings, which is when we’re used to seeing Jonathan Quick (generally) get the night off. But if the team’s serious about cutting down his games played to get him to a more reasonable, non-Cam-Talbot-esque number, games like this are where you start. Darcy Kuemper, in his career with the Wild, has three wins against the Predators and slightly better numbers overall than Quick. John Stevens spoke earlier today about the many factors that go into the decision to play the back-up goalie, which all boils down to “Secret Reasons”.

That game against Toronto was a weird one. Two penalty shots, some sloppy play, some questionable officiating, a nearly-blown lead, and all of Toronto getting angry about Jonathan Quick.

Fancystats tell us that the Kings have been riding the luck train: with a PDO of 103.6, they’re joined by some “wait, that team’s good now?” organizations like the Golden Knights (103.3), Devils (103.1), and Jets (102.8). (The “maybe they’re good AND lucky” Lightning actually lead the league in PDO with 104.3.) Some analysts say that the Kings aren’t that much different from last year, and are maybe worse, given that their possession numbers have been taking a nose dive. But we knew going into this season that maybe the Kings would give up some ownership of the puck in order to be able to generate more chances. And maybe that’s the case.

All I know is that after almost a whole season off to rest and rehabilitate an injury, Jonathan Quick is playing like vintage Quick, and the team looks rejuvenated by some new faces, a new-ish coach, and a new trust in their ability to produce offensively. This team is fun to watch. I trust them to protect a lead. I trust them to score goals! Timely ones, at that! It’s all very very weird, and I like it a lot.

Puck drops tonight at 7:30.

Stay out of the box.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

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

Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
MacDermid - Fantenberg

Kuemper
(Quick)

Nashville Predators

Hartnell - Johansen - Arvidson
Forsberg - Sissons - Smith
Fiala - Jarnkrok - Aberg
McLeod - Gaudreau - Watson

Josi - Ekholm
Emelin - Subban
Irwin - Weber

Saros
(Rinne)

Opposing Preview: On the Forecheck