When I start to write these posts, I usually pull up a few different websites. The Kings’ page, for records and stats. A few different Twitter lists. The SBN blog for the opposing team. The NHL standings. A few other things. These previews aren’t made for a deep dive into advanced stats -- and my last stats class being something like ten years ago means I’m not the right person for that anyway -- but it’s nice to have a few numbers under my belt when I’m putting together my thoughts.
So I get to the standings page. And I scroll down. And down. And down some more. And --
We know the Avalanche are bad. Everyone knows. It’s not a secret in the league. They’re not even intentionally tanking, a la the Coyotes and Sabres a few years back. (Or the Coyotes every year? I shouldn’t make too much fun of them, they just beat us, because sports are fake and life is meaningless.) They’re just Not Good. The Avs have 35 points, 14 behind the Coyotes and 25 behind the Devils. The league-leading Capitals have 85 points. You could make a whole other team out of those 50 points separating the two. Their goal differential is a whopping -77; until the Caps let in a few goals the other day, the teams were at exact opposite ends of the spectrum, a whole 140+ goals separating the two. They’ve won three of ten, and just seven games at home (out of 28).
It’s pretty fair to say that nothing’s gone right for the Avalanche this year. New coaching hasn’t helped. Semyon Varlamov having a terrible year, then getting shut down for the season with an injury, hasn’t helped. Special teams? Bad. (The power play is 29th. The penalty kill is 25th.) Scoring? Non-existent. It’s just -- yikes all around.
The only bright spots have been the emergence of two rookies, forward Mikko Rantanen and defenseman Nikita Zadorov. Rantanen is third on the team in scoring, and while Zadorov isn’t lighting up the scoresheet yet (he’s got ten points, all assists, and only one point in the month of February) he was proving himself to be a budding talent on the blue line. Unfortunately, the two got tangled up in practice, resulting in a season-ending broken ankle for Zadorov.
The Avs are approaching the point where they should start selling off assets before the trade deadline. Will this be the last time the Kings face off against Matt Duchene or Jarome Iginla in Avalanche sweaters? Or is the asking price for any of their players far too high?
For the Kings, it looks like the slightly strange lines we saw against Anaheim will be back, featuring First Ling Dwight King and Fourth Line Adrian Kempe. Kempe and Nic Dowd could make an interesting duo regardless of who is on their right wing, and perhaps lessening Kempe’s responsibility by sheltering him a little more will help him find his footing.
On defense, Paul LaDue didn’t attend this morning’s practice, which means he’s either injured, or being sent back down. Or maybe he overslept. Or maybe Darryl Sutter yelled at him so much that he’s re-examining his life. We’ll never know, because Sutter wouldn’t answer any questions about him. That means that Kevin Gravel will draw back in. Gravel, a healthy scratch recently in favor of LaDue, has talked about the need to add some snarl back into his game, play with a little more passion and force. He looks to have an opportunity to do that tonight and potentially reclaim his roster spot from LaDue.
[ Update: Dean Lombardi came through where Sutter wouldn’t and stated that LaDue is dealing with an upper-body injury. LaDue logged nearly 18 minutes of ice time against the Ducks and played all the way through the final minutes of the game. ]
This game should be an easy one, fancy stats and eyetest both considered.
Of course, we also said that about the Coyotes, and look where we are now.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
King - Kopitar - Toffoli
Pearson - Carter - Brown
Gaborik - Shore - Lewis
Kempe - Dowd - Clifford
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Gravel
McNabb - Martinez
Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen
Grigorenko - Duchene - Nieto
Comeau - Mitchell - Iginla
Colborne - Soderberg - Martinsen
Beauchemin - Barrie
Barberio - Goloubef
Tyutin - Wiercioch
Opposing Preview: Mile High Hockey