Does anything about this feel a little familiar to you? Sliding out of a wild card spot, looking up at the Calgary Flames in the standings, wondering just how the heck we all got to where we are?
Yeah. I know. 2015 called, it wants its plotline back.
Here we are, meeting up with the Flames for just the second time this season. The Kings are five points back from the Flames in the first wild-card spot, and two points back from the Blues in the second. If they want to make any meaningful progress towards getting back into a wild card position, it starts tonight with what is essentially a four-point game.
The Flames haven’t made any significant moves yet, and very well may not -- a sign that either they believe they are perfect as constructed, or that management knows that they’re not really primed to make a deep playoff run. It’s been another improbable season for the Flames, who at times have looked unbeatable, while many still see them being the team to fall out of the playoffs picture by the time the end of the season rolls around.
Of course, that was when Brian Elliott looked like he was the wrong choice for the Flames to settle on as their starting goaltender. While his numbers overall aren’t great this season, he’s certainly righted the ship as of late. In six of his last ten starts, he’s allowed two goals or fewer, including a 35-save performance against the Hurricanes on Sunday.
Meanwhile, up front, the Flames are unsurprisingly led by Johnny Gaudreau (43 points) and Mikael Backlund (44 points). Gaudreau has eight points in his last five games (2 goals, 6 assists) and was named NHL Third Star of the Week. The number three scorer for the Flames may surprise you, however: rookie Matt Tkachuk has 41 points (11 goals, 30 assists) -- and 94 penalty minutes, the highest on the Flames and fourth in the league (behind noted penalty box denizens Antoine Roussel, Mark Borowiecki, and Andrew Shaw). The Flames have no shortage of players who will get chippy, but Tkachuk will do that and score a goal on you for good measure.
Without a practice for the Kings this morning, the assumption is that the lineup will stay relatively the same. With Jordan Nolan re-injured, the only other forward help available is Andy Andreoff, so the lineup’s probably as good as it’s going to get, barring a trade or a call-up from the AHL. (And while a Jonny Brodzinski call-up has been rumored, if it happens, it probably would be after Wednesday -- in order to play in the AHL after the trade deadline and in the Calder Cup playoffs, players must be on the AHL roster on Wednesday.)
Ben Bishop looks to make his debut for the Kings tonight. It should be interesting, to say the least, to see how the team plays in front of him. It can take a while for skaters to learn a new goalie’s tendencies and preferences, so in theory the Kings could see themselves playing an even more conservative game than usual while they adapt to Bishop.
Or, you know, Bishop could come twenty feet out of the crease and give us all heart attacks.
Just watch this gif, repeatedly, until gametime. Everything’s going to be fine.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Kempe - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Gaborik - Shore - Lewis
King - Dowd - Clifford
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Gravel
McNabb - Martinez
Ferland - Monahan - Gaudreau
Tkachuk - Backlund - Frolik
Versteeg - Bennett - Brouwer
Bouma - Stajan - Chiasson
Giordano - Hamilton
Brodie - Stone
Bartkowski - Engelland
Opposing Preview: Matchsticks & Gasoline