If you haven’t been paying attention much to the east, you may have missed the Capitals’ rise after a mediocre start to the season. They’re leading the league right now, a familiar spot for them. They’ve won their last two games, and seven of their last ten, and seem to be clicking on all cylinders. It’s enough of a taste of success that Caps fans generally seem to be panicking that their team is peaking too early -- also a familiar spot for the Caps.
Lots of early season line shuffling went on, trying to spark an offense that went suspiciously quiet for a bit. Things with the Caps are back to normal, though, with all the players in their right places. The offense is back -- since January 1, four of the top ten points-getters in the league are on the Caps (Kuznetsov, 22 points; Backstrom, 22 points; Ovechkin, 19 points; Oshie, 17 points). In other words, the Caps are scary again. Taking them on with little rest, on a second consecutive day with a matinee game, could be an adventure.
The Kings will most likely face off against backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, who’s having himself quite a season, too. Though he’s gotten limited starts thanks to Braden Holtby’s ability to start an inhuman amount of games, Grubauer’s numbers are great, having won six of his last eight starts, including his own shutout against the Flyers.
In other words: don’t get comfortable, Kings.
The Kings ride into Washington -- literally, there was a train involved -- on a five game win streak, thanks most recently to a stellar outing from Peter Budaj and some timely work from Jeff Carter (and Anze Kopitar) in overtime. It’s probably no stretch of the imagination to suggest that the same probably won’t happen in Washington, so the Kings definitely need to be sharp right out of the gate. Games against the Caps can definitely get out of hand quickly, if a team isn’t careful.
With no morning skate before the game, the assumption is that the lines will remain the same for today. Tyler Toffoli was eased back in, only seeing the ice at even strength, and that will probably continue in Washington. Defenseman Paul LaDue will most likely not debut here -- throwing a rookie defenseman into his first game in Washington would be the ultimate in throwing a player to the wolves. I’d expect him in one of the Florida games, if he’s actually here to play and not just be an extra body.
People keep predicting that Jeff Zatkoff is going to start, but -- man. I don’t know, guys. I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter Budaj plays until he falls apart. By then, Jonathan Quick might be back.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Gaborik - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
King - Shore - Lewis
Clifford - Dowd - Setoguchi
Muzzin - Doughty
Forbort - Martinez
McNabb - Gravel
Ovechkin - Backstrom - Oshie
Johansson - Kuznetsov - Williams
Connolly - Eller - Burakovsky
Winnik - Beagle - Wilson
Alzner - Carlson
Orlov - Niskanen
Orpik - Schmidt
Opposing Preview: Japer’s Rink