Game Time: 4:00 PM Pacific, FS-W
Funny how quickly talk of a dynasty trails off after a few dismal post-season efforts.
For all that the Kings have struggled since the 2014 Cup, the Chicago Blackhawks haven’t exactly made much of a splash in the post-season since their last win. While they haven’t missed the playoffs (yet -- more on that in a minute), they’ve been bounced in the first round for each of the past two seasons. Chicago has problems of their own makings, thanks to lucrative contracts (Brent Seabrook) with no-move clauses (Brent Seabrook) that look worse as time goes on (Brent Seabrook). They’ve had to offload high-end talent to get rid of other bad contracts (Teuvo Teravainen), to stay under the salary cap (Brandon Saad), or to seek out cost controlled players (Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson).
This season, several young players have stepped up, including Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat, but Chicago’s years of wild successes are starting to catch up with them. Scoring, particularly from some of the team’s stars, has been inconsistent. On many nights this season, Corey Crawford has been the player keeping the game in reach.
Only, about that:
Blackhawks place Corey Crawford on IR and recall J-F Berube. Whoa.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) December 1, 2017
In Crawford’s place is the inconsistent, inexperienced Anton Forsberg. Forsberg performed well enough last night against the Stars -- he got his team to overtime after a few lack-luster periods from Chicago -- but was hopeless in the shootout. He’s got one win in six starts this season, and while the responsibility for that can’t be placed solely on Forsberg, gone are the days of knowing the Blackhawks have a backup who will be able to dominate when Crawford inevitably misses time with an injury.
The Blackhawks also have former Kings prospect JF Berube in their organization now, and he’s been called up to back up Forsberg. Talk around town is that Forsberg may get the start anyway, despite having just played last night, so the Kings may miss out on another round of “say hello to your former colleague”. For what it’s worth, Berube has played against the Kings once, when he was still in the Islanders’ system, and won the game, so perhaps he’s given Chicago something to think about tonight.
The Kings are riding high after a four game win streak. The Capitals and Blues certainly aren’t easy teams to beat, and the Kings managed to make those wins look convincing, rather than like nailbiters. Leading the way up front during the streak has been Anze Kopitar (3G, 1A); six other players, including a rejuvenated Marian Gaborik have chipped in three points apiece. Drew Doughty has four assists over those four games and has been showing every night exactly why he’s one of the league’s best defensemen.
No one Kings player has been dominating games lately, and while it’s always exciting to see someone put the team on his back and carry them to victory (pour one out for 2016-17 Jeff Carter), it’s refreshing to see the Kings just getting the job done and not relying too heavily on any one player or line.
The United Center has been the sight of some memorable games for the Kings over the past few seasons (ask me about how quickly the place cleared out a few years ago when the Kings absolutely dominated for something like a 5-0 victory). The rivalry may not be what it once was, but this year, it’s the Kings who have bounced back from some rough seasons to say that they still have something to prove.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Shore - Toffoli
Gaborik - Kempe - Lewis
Jokinen - Mitchell - Brodzinski
Muzzin - Doughty
MacDermid - Martinez
Forbort - Folin
Saad - Toews - Panik
Schmaltz - Anisimov - Kane
Sharp - Hartman - DeBrincat
Bouma - Wingels - Hayden
Keith - Franson
Murphy - Seabrook
Forsling - Rutta
Opposing Preview: Second City Hockey