Ah, yes, the trade deadline, where change is inevitable. The trades are starting to trickle out a little early instead of being all in one fell swoop on deadline day, and both the Kings and the Wild come into today’s tilt with different faces in the lineup.
The Wild are welcoming Martin Hanzal and Ryan White to the lineup. While Hanzal is eventually expected to take the third line center role, he’ll most likely be eased into the lineup tonight on the fourth line, with fellow former Coyote Ryan White. Both are familiar faces to the Kings; White just scored against the Kings in their most recent matchup and Hanzal has 12 goals and 28 points total against the Kings in his career. While he’ll be utilized differently with Minnesota, he does create an additional complication for opponents to watch out for.
The Wild continue their dominance in the West. Barring either a late-season collapse or a surge from their closest competitors (Chicago is one point back and have won nine of their last 10; San Jose is five points back) they look poised to at least win the West. It’s been a great turn-around year for the team, and the cause of many stories about Bruce Boudreau’s regular season dominance -- and lots of speculation as to what to expect from them in the post-season.
Working in the Kings favor could be the lineup discombobulation of inserting two new players into a lineup without so much as a practice beforehand. The Wild are also coming off their bye week, having lost to Chicago on Tuesday. They’re well rested, but as we’ve seen over and over again, the bye week historically hasn’t given teams a boost in their first game back.
The only change for the Kings (for now) is Ben Bishop, who will be holding down a spot on the bench tonight as he backs up Jonathan Quick. Bishop’s real debut in a Kings jersey will likely come when they take on Calgary tomorrow.
Based on morning skate, it looks like Marian Gaborik returns to the lineup tonight. Was his scratch against the Ducks a “sit down and think about what you’ve done” scratch? Or was it a “we might have a trade, so please don’t get hurt” scratch? Rumors have been flying that the Kings are looking to move Gaborik, so perhaps something was in the works but fell through. Or perhaps Sutter wanted his underperforming forward to take a seat for a night. Perhaps taking the ice against his old team will help add some spark back into his game. Gaborik remains the Wild’s franchise leader in goals (219) and is second in points (437) despite not having played there since 2009.
A win tonight will put the Kings just one point outside of a wild card spot (the Blues, idle until tomorrow, are ahead of them with 67 points). The season’s down to few enough games that every one of them is starting to feel like a must-win, so let’s start with tonight.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Kempe - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Gaborik - Dowd - Clifford
King - Shore - Lewis
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Gravel
McNabb - Martinez
Niederreiter - Staal - Coyle
Zucker - Koivu - Granlund
Parise - Haula - Pominville
Stewart - Hanzal - White
Suter - Spurgeon
Brodin - Dumba
Scandella - Folin
Opposing Preview: Hockey Wilderness