A year ago around this time, the Kings blew a three-goal lead against the Caps, but still managed to win in overtime thanks to some heroics from -- you guessed it -- Jeff Carter.
The years before that were slightly less tense -- a shootout here and there, sure -- but the ending was the same: Kings win. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to December 2005 to find a Capitals win in Los Angeles, a 3-2 win. (Dustin Brown is the only remaining King on the roster from that time, in his first full NHL season.)
The Capitals have traditionally not fared very well on their west coast trips, and this one couldn’t come at a worse time, as they’re mired in a slump of their own right now. They’ve lost two in a row, something that’s a bit of a rare feat for them, and have lost five of their last ten (one was an overtime loss).
In an effort to shake things up, the Capitals have shifted their lines around, breaking up the sometimes-unstoppable duo of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and elevating noted troublemaker Tom Wilson to the top six. They’re not necessarily lines that make sense, and Caps fans seem more than a little perplexed by them, and for good reason.
Ovi’s been having an odd season, getting off far fewer shots -- and getting less goals -- than everyone’s accustomed to. Ovechkin’s sitting on 27 goals right now, and barring some heroic late-season outburst, is going to miss the 50-goal tally for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
The fact that the Capitals are doing as well as they are despite the slowed output from Ovechkin is a testament to both the goaltending of Brayden Holtby and the supporting cast built around Ovechkin. TJ Oshie’s on his way to a career high in goals, people are finally paying attention to Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Heck, even Brett Connolly is producing, after bouncing around between the Lightning and the Bruins.
The Capitals: they make everyone look good.
The Kings are coming off a much needed win against Nashville, even if it did take overtime to get them there. A three-goal outburst was nice to see, but the fact that they all came on the power play is concerning. The Capitals spend a lot of time in the box but they also are top five in the penalty kill over the course of the season. While the Kings power play is heating up -- they’ve got seven power play goals in four games -- relying on the man advantage against one of the stingier teams in the league isn’t going to be the way to success.
Based on morning skate, Kevin Gravel draws back in over Brayden McNabb. Against the Predators, McNabb had 15:27 of ice time and no shots on goal, a low for the defense -- less than rookie Paul LaDue. That last defensemen spot really does appear to be down to McNabb and Gravel, as LaDue’s done his best to cement his spot. Both Gravel and Darryl Sutter talk about the need for him to play with a little more physicality, and he’ll have no shortage of opportunities to do just that against the Caps.
Everything else stays the same -- including, hopefully, the final outcome.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iginla - Kopitar - Gaborik
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Lewis - Kempe - Brown
Andreoff - Dowd - Clifford
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - LaDue
Gravel - Martinez
Johansson - Backstrom - Oshie
Ovechkin - Kuznetsov - Wilson
Connolly - Eller - Williams
Winnik - Beagle - Vrana
Alzner - Carlson
Orlov - Niskanen
Orpik - Shattenkirk
Opposing Preview: Jasper’s Rink