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Game Day Preview #50, Los Angeles Kings @ Dallas Stars

A game against the best shot suppression team in the league? Sweet.

Dallas Stars v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (26-18-5) @ Dallas Stars (28-18-4)

Game Time: 5:30 PM, FS-W

Did you have a good All-Star break? Do you feel well rested? Ready to seize the remaining thirty-some games of the season and make that final playoff push?

I mostly feel tired, and full of cookies (thanks, leftover cookies from someone’s meeting at work), but someone’s got to do this job, so here I am.

(Speaking of not doing your job:

)

After scratching out a win in Calgary before the break, the Kings are back on the road for a quick stint in the Central. The trip to Dallas and, later this week, Nashville, coincides with the Kings’ fathers’ trip.

And, yes, before you ask:

(No confirmation as to whether he went as second dad to his now-grown sons, Tyler and Tanner, or not.)

A tight game against a very good Calgary team hopefully inspired some confidence in the Kings, who haven’t exactly been stellar coming out of breaks this season (3-2 OT loss to Vegas after the Christmas break; 4-2 loss to Anaheim after the bye week). With the end of the season hurtling towards us quicker than seems possible, we’re getting into now-or-never time.

Much like Calgary, Dallas is another team the Kings are in direct competition with for a playoff position. The Stars’ 60 points has them as the first wild card in the West; the Kings’ 57 have them just outside of the playoff picture, in a four-way tie with Colorado, Minnesota, and Anaheim.

And after an off season last year, the Stars have been putting together a solid season. Adapting to new coach Ken Hitchcock’s defense-first strategy has come with some growing pains for the typically high-event Stars. Despite predictions that their offensive stars would stumble over the new systems, the Stars are figuring out how to balance offense with defense — hey, does that sound like a familiar concern to anyone else? -- and are well positioned to sneak into the playoffs.

It really helps that Dallas has two competent goalies this season. While Ben Bishop is not the same goalie he was at the peak of his career, he’s been a steadying force for Dallas, which has struggled in net for the past several seasons. And the lightened workload has done wonders for Kari Lehtonen, who is putting up the best numbers of his career since 2013-14. The Stars as an organization having confidence in their netminders means that they don’t have to score five or six goals a night in order to win. (Don’t worry, though, the Stars’ offense is still potent: they’re ninth in scoring in all situations, with 152 goals, or just over three goals a game.)

What should be concerning for the Kings tonight is the almost brutal way in which Dallas is stifling all attempts at offense.

The Kings have already found themselves in an unfamiliar situation this year, in that their possession numbers are taking a hit, which ultimately means they’re not getting the puck to the net quite as much. Remember past seasons, where the Kings’ Fan Lament was that the team would put 45 shots on a goalie and still lose?

The Stars’ prowess at keeping opposing players out of dangerous areas, and getting their own attempts in close, is somewhat mind-blowing. The below chart comes from a recent Stars/Bruins game, but pull up nearly any heatmap from a recent Stars game and you’ll see essentially the same thing.

This game will be a true test for the Kings, against another team trying to force themselves back into the playoffs picture. The lineup will be largely the same for the Kings, although Tyler Toffoli and Dustin Brown will switch lines on the right wing. Marian Gaborik appears to be a healthy scratch, which isn’t all too surprising — after coming out very strong after his season debut in November, Gaborik hasn’t scored a goal since December 30 and has no points in his last five games. While Andy Andreoff has essentially zero offensive upside, he can at least be the physical-go-to-the-net guy for Mike Amadio and Jonny Brodzinski.

Darcy Kuemper gets the start tonight. He’s faced the Stars more than any other team and has fairly good numbers — he’s 6-3-3 over twelve games played in his career. Kuemper’s played well for the Kings in the starts that he’s gotten, and with Jonathan Quick nursing, well, something, this is another chance for Kuemper to prove he’s worthy of a higher workload than he’s been given to date.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Toffoli
Pearson - Kempe - Brown
Clifford - Mitchell - Lewis
Andreoff - Amadio - Brodzinski

Gravel - Doughty
Muzzin - LaDue
Martinez - Folin

Kuemper
(Campbell)

Dallas Stars

Benn - Seguin - Radulov
Smith - Spezza - Ritchie
Shore - Faksa - Pitlick
Elie - Dickinson - Janmark

Lindell - Klingberg
Hamhuis - Pateryn
Johns - Honka

Bishop
(Lehtonen)

Opposing Preview: Defending Big D