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Game Day Preview #78, Arizona Coyotes @ Los Angeles Kings

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We’re Still Mathematically Relevant!

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Los Angeles Kings Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Arizona Coyotes (28-41-9) @ Los Angeles Kings (37-33-7)

Game Time: 7:30 PM Pacific, Fox Sports West

If this were a normal season, we’d be talking about how the Coyotes are doing what they always do: stumbling and flailing their way through the season only to show up at the tail end and mess with a bunch of teams’ records. They’ve only won three of their last ten, but those three wins had some playoffs implications. A 6-4 win over the Capitals delayed them from clinching best in the East, as well as their likely President’s Trophy. They also beat the Lightning, who are still fighting it out in the East for one of the remaining playoff spots.

And, of course, their third win in the last ten came against the Kings, in an incredibly frustrating shoot-out loss.

With the Predators’ loss earlier today, the Kings’ playoff hopes are mathematically still alive. The Kings would need to win out, and the Predators would need to lose every remaining game in regulation, in order for the Kings to sneak into the playoffs.

So, for tonight, at least, the Kings’ hopes of remaining technically relevant lie in their hands -- and also Mike Smith’s.

Smith seems to take particular delight in beating the Kings; he’s got a 14-8-1 career record against them and a save percentage of .929, his third best mark (right behind his records against the Sharks and Avalanche).

But it hasn’t mattered who’s been in net for the Coyotes, Smith or Louis Domingue, the Kings haven’t been able to get the goals -- or the wins -- they’ve needed against Arizona this year. It doesn’t matter who Arizona’s got on the ice, not even the post-trade deadline patchwork of rookies, AHL call-ups, and also Shane Doan. Arizona’s found the goals, gotten the wins, taken a bunch of points from the Kings that they could have used.

Same as it ever was.

In the waning days of the season, Darryl Sutter continues to subtly tinker with his lines, when he’s not busy throwing former backup Jeff Zatkoff under the bus. After scoring for the first time since mid-March, Tyler Toffoli’s won the “why can’t anyone do anything productive here” spot to Anze Kopitar’s right. Tanner Pearson moves back to skate with Jeff Carter, who has looked good in his limited time so far with Jarome Iginla.

Adrian Kempe looks to center the fourth line, in what’s certainly a completely miscast role for him. With Kyle Clifford and Jordan Nolan as the human bowling balls on his wings, I don’t know how anyone expects Kempe to excel there. But Sutter seems to be taking issue with Nic Dowd’s play as of late, so Fourth Line Center Adrian Kempe it is.

A win keeps those false hopes going for at least another few days. A loss lets the players finally be honest with themselves and with us; we can transition from hearing the cliches about playing hard and every point mattering, into hearing about how they just couldn’t get the job done, how they’ll still play their hearts out, come back hard and strong for next year.

Puck drops soon for the Kings’ last homestand of the season. What outcome are you hoping for?

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Gaborik - Kopitar - Toffoli
Pearson - Carter - Iginla
Lewis - Shore - Brown
Clifford - Kempe - Nolan

Forbort - Doughty
McNabb - Martinez
Muzzin - LaDue

Quick
(Bishop)

Arizona Coyotes

Perlini - Dvorak - Vrbata
Domi - Burmistrov - Duclair
Martinook - Jooris - Rieder
Crouse - Holland - Doan

Ekman-Larsson - Schenn
Goligoski - Murphy
Connauton - DeAngelo

Smith
(Domingue)

Opposing Preview: Five for Howling