Game time: 7:30 PM Pacific, Fox Sports West
You’ll forgive me if I’m a little later with this than a usual weekend game preview; I’ve been spending the afternoon listening (listening! on a radio feed! since sports is still one of the few things you can’t just pay to stream a la carte without a cable package) to my college alma mater really take it to Union in the first round of the NCAA men’s hockey tournament (Penn State 10, Union 3, and I’m contemplating driving 600 miles round trip to watch them probably lose to Denver tomorrow).
But enough about me. Let’s talk about the Rangers:
Who’s got the best road record in the league? Oh, the Rangers. They’ve got 26 wins on the road this year, which is a much better record than their home stats (19-16-3). They’ve won nine of their last 11 road games, with only one loss in regulation time (inexplicably, to the Hurricanes), so, you know. This is going to be fun, right? That’s the right word? Fun?
The Rangers have been in a bit of a lull lately, with six losses in their last ten (two of those came in overtime). They’ve also been dealing with some injuries, including to Henrik Lundqvist, who has missed the past three weeks with a lower body injury. He’s due to start tomorrow against the Ducks, so the Kings will draw Antti Raanta tonight. Much like his team, Raanta excels on the road, with a 16-2-1 record since joining the Rangers.
Defenseman Dan Girardi returns tonight after missing 12 games with an ankle injury, putting the Rangers’ blue line somewhat back to rights. He’s going right back to the top pairing, so he won’t be eased back in after so much time off by taking on lesser minutes or competition. Girardi and his defensive partner Ryan McDonagh are often the target of ire from Rangers fans -- or, at least, the Rangers fans I follow on Twitter -- so watching the performance of the ostensibly top pairing should be interesting tonight.
For the Kings, Jonny Brodzinski makes his NHL debut tonight. He’ll be skating on the Reign line with Nic Dowd centering and Adrian Kempe on the left. I’ll be interested to see what they can do, particularly since it gives Dowd a paired of skilled, speedy wingers. I don’t think Dowd’s NHL numbers (five goals, 15 assists) are truly indicative of the kind of skill he’s capable of showing. Dowd’s spent most of his time this season centering Devin Setoguchi and Dustin Brown (128 minutes), Andy Andreoff and Kyle Clifford (71 minutes), or Devin Setoguchi and Kyle Clifford (63 minutes). Even though Dowd, Brodzinski, and Kempe didn’t really play together in Ontario, pairing the three here has potential to actually create an offensively skilled third line. (I know, the very idea feels foreign to recent iterations of the Kings, but just go with me here, I’ve seen it happen on other teams. I’ve been assured that depth scoring from skill players exists.)
I actually…. don’t hate this lineup? You’ve got two lines of young, skill players (plus Jeff Carter as the designated Skilled Adult), a line that could take on more heavy defensive work and potentially flip the ice on defensive draws (Kopitar’s), and a grind line to do the dirty work (Lewis). If this were the lineup on opening night -- any foresight about a dramatic nosedive in shooting percentages aside -- I would have been cautiously optimistic about what the season could have brought.
It may be too little too late, but giving Kempe and Brodzinski extended looks as the season draws to a close could give us a great preview of what may be in store for the Kings in the future.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Gaborik - Kopitar - Iginla
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Kempe - Dowd - Brodzinski
Andreoff - Lewis - Brown
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - LaDue
McNabb - Martinez
New York Rangers
Kreider - Stepan - Zuccarello
Vesey - Zibanejad - Nash
Miller - Hayes - Grabner
Buchnevich - Lindberg - Fast
McDonagh - Girardi
Staal - Holden
Skjei - Smith
Opposing Preview: Blue Shirt Banter