Watch: 6:00 PM Pacific, Fox Sports West
Well, friends, we are getting down to the wire here, if by “down to the wire” you mean “waiting for the sweet icy touch of death and/or draft pick order”, depending on how you’re viewing the end of the season. It’s too late to tank for Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, so at this point, it’s just a matter of playing the games out and hoping that Dean Lombardi and the scouts actually make smart choices with their draft picks (and then don’t trade the prospects away for rentals a few years from now).
A new leader in sadness! pic.twitter.com/GNLDjTQFoS— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 26, 2017
Yes, yes, I know, “bloggers in basements don’t determine the way the season plays out”, thanks, Darryl Sutter, but also, I am not in a basement, I am sitting at my desk at my cushy office job, sneaking in some hockey writing while I wait for people to continue to ignore the 847353 emails I already sent out. (Shh, don’t tell on me.) In fact, I don’t even have a basement! So I’m just going to extrapolate and say that I’m allowed to have opinions on this.
So there, hockey.
Tonight’s game has implications for both teams in the playoff race -- while it’s not a mathematical elimination, a Kings loss all but assures that any playoff hopes are very, incredibly dead. A Kings win, however, delays the Oilers from clinching a playoff spot. While it’s inevitable that the Oilers will return to the postseason this year, the Kings have a chance to play a bit of a spoiler tonight. With not much left to play for, other than contractual obligations and, as some would suggest, pride, it sure would be fun to win and thus delay the Oilers any form of celebration for at least a few days. (They play the Sharks - who are taking a nose dive of their own lately - on Thursday, so maybe they’ll get to celebrate then.)
Cam Talbot, or whatever cyborg concoction that Peter Chiarelli and company have turned him into, gets the start for the Oilers tonight in what I’m pretty certain is his 75th consecutive start. Lest we dwell too long on what happened last time these two teams met, just a week ago, Talbot shut the Kings out, making 35 saves, and/or driving 35 tiny nails into the Kings’ playoff coffin, however you want to think about it.
For as important, other-worldly, potentially demonic, once-in-a-generation-talented as Connor McDavid is, this team will most likely live and die by the performance of Cam Talbot in the post-season. If Talbot falls apart -- literally or otherwise -- will the Oilers be able to score their way out of the puck going in their own net? The Oilers don’t exactly have another goalie lurking in their system who seems like they could come in and right the ship, if something goes wrong.
The Kings may have some new -- “new” -- looks tonight, as Marian Gaborik will be scratched. I tried to come up with what lines I think they would roll, without Gaborik in the mix, and literally threw my hands up in the air. Because if you take out Gaborik, all you have left is Jordan Nolan, and -- look, I love both of them, but Adrian Kempe centering Nolan and Trevor Lewis is just -- like. Godspeed, young Swede. Honestly.
If you ask me, it’s the time of year to get creative. The points don’t matter that much anymore, so why not start playing lines that are a little more “let’s see what happens”? Give Pearson and Toffoli to Anze Kopitar, give Jeff Carter a new set of rookies in Kempe and Brodzinski, try making Anyone/Dowd/Iginla more of a shutdown line (I’m thinking particularly of the way Chicago has been deploying Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa on the third line.) Put literally any three bodies on the fourth line, in any order. Try it. It can’t possibly be worse than any of the other same-but-still-ineffective lines this team has tried this season.
Kempe’s been acquitting himself well as a center, particularly when it’s not a role he played often in Ontario, but forcing him into that role says a lot about the Kings’ center depth, or lack thereof. As a Chicagoan who sometimes still has flashbacks to the Blackhawks/Kings 2014 series, one of the things that truly tanked Chicago in that series was an inability to match the Kings up the middle.
Andy Andreoff and Trevor Lewis have done spot duties at center, but Kempe still won out in that spot after the injury to Nick Shore. As an aside, a member of the Nick Shore Fan Club, which probably consists of me, three of my friends, and also maybe the Shore family (they don’t know they’re members, but I’m sure they’d appreciate the sentiment), I was intrigued to see a comment from Jon Rosen recently, mentioning that Shore’s absence in the lineup has had perhaps more of an effect than one would realize. The Kings’ playoff hopes don’t live and die with Nick Shore’s nebulous upper body injury, but he’s more appreciated and needed in his role than maybe most realize.
Anyway, there probably won’t be any fancy Why The Heck Not lines tonight. We’re probably going to see First Line Andy Andreoff, just to spite me.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Brown - Kopitar - Iginla
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Someone Who Definitely Isn’t Gaborik - Kempe - Lewis
Andreoff - Dowd - Brodzinski
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
McNabb - LaDue
Maroon - McDavid - Draisaitl
Lucic - Nugent-Hopkins - Eberle
Pouliot - Desharnais - Kassian
Slepyshev - Letestu - Caggiula
Klefbom - Larsson
Sekera - Russell
Nurse - Gryba
Opposing Preview: Copper and Blue