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Game Day Preview #38, Vegas Golden Knights @ Los Angeles Kings

Ugh.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Vegas Golden Knights (24-9-2) @ Los Angeles Kings (22-11-4)

Game Time: 7:00 PM, NBCSN

Hi, hello, yes, we’re back. Welcome!

We hope your holiday break was a delight and that you got everything you asked for.

So let’s ease back on into this hockey thing. We’ll pretend that last game against the Sharks didn’t happen, just like I did not get a pony or a million dollars for Christmas. None of these things happened. Cool. Great. Next.

Oh. The Golden Knights. Welcome to Los Angeles, unexpected rival.

Sure, we all thought this would be a rivalry, but a fun rivalry, not one we actually had to take seriously.

But here we are, days away from 2018, and most talk of “when are the Golden Knights going to stop riding that PDO wave and implode” is gone. The early projections of them being just good enough to act as a spoiler, particularly in the Pacific, but not good enough to be relevant, are all completely dead. Even if their play does slip down the line — and remember, they’ve done nearly all of this without Marc-Andre Fleury, who has only played eight games this season after missing time with a concussion. Their scoring is remarkably spread out — four players have double digits in goals, with four more in the seven-to-nine goal range.

The Golden Knights are first and foremost a team of hard workers. All players who, on their former teams, could bounce around the lineup as needed. Perhaps only James Neal and, to some extent, David Perron, had any real top-line player type pedigree before coming to the Knights. And yet, here they are, being led in scoring by Jon Marchessault, cast off from two Florida teams, even after a break-out season last year with the Panthers.

The Golden Knights have a ten-game point streak and have won their past five games. Fleury is unbeaten since returning from a concussion. Vegas sits two points atop the Kings for the Pacific division lead.

This game isn’t quite a must-win — the Kings are in a comfortable position right now, sitting second in the Pacific and six points ahead of the third-place Sharks — and the Kings have never exactly been a team that’s overly concerned with winning the division. But those two points sure would be nice.

After the holiday break, the Kings have shuffled up their lines a bit, swapping Tanner Pearson and Alex Iafallo on the top two lines. I’m interested to see Iafallo play alongside Kempe; the two are friends and roommates off the ice, so perhaps some of that chemistry will translate to the game. The swap was probably done to try to get Pearson going, points-wise. Iafallo’s production is less of a concern for now, but the Kings have a lot invested in Tanner Pearson being a major player for this team’s offense.

On defense, it looks like Kevin Gravel could get in his first game since being called up. John Stevens has spoken in interviews about wanting to see more consistency in Oscar Fantenberg’s game, which is why he’s been the more frequent healthy scratch as of late. Gravel plays a simple game and is, of course, already a known quantity to the team, having spent a large part of last season in the NHL.

Before the game starts, the team will honor Dustin Brown for his 1,000th game played. Make sure to tune in on time for the ceremony honoring his achievement.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Pearson-Kopitar-Brown
Iafallo-Kempe-Toffoli
Gaborik-Shore-Lewis
Andreoff-Mitchell-Brodzinski

Muzzin-Doughty
MacDermid-Martinez

Quick
(Kuemper)

Vegas Golden Knights

Perron - Haula - Neal
Smith - Karlsson - Marchessault
Leipsic - Eakin - Tuch
Lindberg - Bellemare - Nosek

McNabb - Schmidt
Engelland - Theodore
Merrill - Miller

Fleury
(Subban)

Opposing Preview: Knights on Ice