Well, here we are. The Wild didn’t help the Kings out by winning. The Blues, despite sort of being sellers at the deadline -- you don’t trade one of your best defensemen if you think you can win a Cup, even if he is a UFA -- are three points up on the Kings as they embark on their southern California road trip. The Flames are getting hot at the exact right time for them (8-1-1 in their last ten and winners of seven in a row) and the worst time for the Kings. No one would say the Jets are a legitimate playoffs threat, and yet they’re just two points back of the Kings.
After a slow start to the season, one in which the Predators looked so discombobulated that there was talk of them legitimately missing the playoffs, they’ve maintained a strong hold on third in the Central for quite some time now. Their performance has been up and down, though -- they followed a four game winning streak with three losses, including a shoot-out loss in Anaheim on Tuesday.
The Predators player everyone wants to watch is Filip Forsberg, who’s having himself a fantastic season. He’s tied with Ryan Johansen for team lead in points and has 27 goals, eleven of which have come over the last ten games. Forsberg is heating up at the exact right time for the Predators. Whatever zone he’s in right now is unreal: he’s had seven shots in each of his last two games, and has been held without a shot only three times this season.
Of course, there is danger all up and down the Preds’ lineup: Viktor Arvidsson had a two-goal night against Chicago last week, Calle Jarnkrok is getting more minutes and better linemates and more points, PK Subban exists and is beautiful and everything that is right about hockey.
Also -- okay, look. The Predators have two guys with a combined seventeen major penalties. Austin Watson already has a fight in each game against the Kings (one with Andy Andreoff and the other with Derek Forbort). Cody McLeod didn’t join the Predators until January (after a trade with Colorado) and already has six fights in sixteen games, including fights in his last two. If anyone’s going to drop the gloves to “change the momentum” or “give his team a spark”, it’s going to be one of these guys.
The Kings could sweep their season series against the Predators with a win tonight. They crushed them 4-0 in December and won a 3-2 overtime decision back in October. For whatever reason, they’ve had the Predators’ number this year.
With four inexplicable days off (thanks, schedulers), the Kings have spent the past few days at practice working on fundamentals, including work with a skating coach, and plenty of conditioning drills. They’re well-rested (or at least, they should be) and hopefully are in a mindset that has them ready to focus on playing a simple, skilled game.
No changes appear on the horizon for the lineup tonight. Nick Shore is allegedly closer to returning than Jordan Nolan is. If you’re keeping an eye on Ontario, Jonny Brodzinski returned to practice after missing two games with an injury, and Michael Mersch has two goals in three games since his return from about a month and a half off with an injury.
Here’s Jeff Carter’s overtime goal against the Predators from that game back in October. Let’s see a little more of that tonight, and a little less of -- whatever else has been happening.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iginla - Kopitar - Gaborik
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Lewis - Kempe - Brown
Andreoff - Dowd - Clifford
Forbort - Doughty
McNabb - Martinez
Muzzin - LaDue
Forsberg - Johansen - Arvidsson
Fiala - Fisher - Smith
Wilson - Jarnkrok - Neal
McLeod - Sissons - Watson
Josi - Ellis
Ekholm - Subban
Bitetto - Irwin
Opposing Preview: On the Forecheck