HOW TO WATCH
Game Time: 5:30 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West, NHL Network
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Second City Hockey
How the Mighty Have Fallen, Part Two
Seems like we were just exploring this line of thought when the Rangers made their trip to Los Angeles, but here we are again, this time with the rebuilding-but-won’t-really-admit-it Chicago Blackhawks. We are so very far away from that epic 2014 playoff battle, aren’t we?
After a brief glimmer of hope for the Kings, including one win at the end of John Stevens’ tenure and one at the start of Willie Desjardins’, the team has dropped their last three, including the absolutely deflating loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday. Sure, no one really expected the Kings to win that one, but they also didn’t expect them to lose in such a spectacular fashion, either.
Over their last three games the Kings have scored two goals, total, and have been outscored 9-2 in that time. Adrian Kempe’s redirect of a Dion Phaneuf shot gave the Kings some momentum, but needless penalties against one of the league’s top power play units put them into a hole they couldn’t get out of. Willie Desjardins named Kempe as one of the best players in that game, notable especially for the fact that he had next to the least amount of ice time, clocking in at 9:23. Regardless of how Kempe gets used, hopefully the goal for the exceptionally snakebitten player helps give him some confidence back.
In With The New
Seeing Tanner Pearson in a Penguins uniform was tough enough last night. It’s going to be even weirder not to see him in the lineup tonight, though.
Instead, new acquisition Carl Hagelin will make his Kings debut, playing on the left wing, with fellow Swede Kempe at center and Matt Luff at right wing. Kempe and Hagelin know each other already and have trained in the past together in Sweden. Both players have exceptional speed, and Hagelin has a bit more of a hard-nosed crash-the-nest sort of game, though both have struggled on the scoresheet this season. Hence Hagelin donning a Kings jersey tonight.
Still, the combination is intriguing, and really, for the success of the team, you’ve got to be rooting for them to succeed. (Unless you’re on team #LoseForHughes, and then you just want to see the whole world burn, which is fine, I guess.)
Willie Desjardins has been exceptionally patient with his lineup, which seems to be as much part of the feeling out process for him to get a handle on what sorts of players he’s working with, as it is a product of the fact that, as evidenced by his time with the Canucks, he just doesn’t seem that interested in switching up lines. So we’ll probably get to see a lot of Hagelin with Kempe tonight, for better or worse.
What can be said about the Blackhawks that hasn’t been said about the Kings this season? An aging core trying to recapture lost glory, saddled with contracts handed out to players for past performance and loyalty more than with an eye to the future. A few young players who can be difference-makers, but not always consistently. A patchwork defense. A coach who maybe should have been at the end of his tenure anyway, but still taking the fall for the team’s failure to perform and the GM’s failure to construct a better roster. New coaches struggling to pull wins out of their teams: Jeremy Colliton has gone 1-2-1 since taking over the Blackhawks bench, and Willie Desjardins has gone 1-3-0.
The biggest difference between the two teams right now is in net: Corey Crawford has generally performed exceptionally since returning to the lineup after missing nearly a full calendar year dealing with a concussion. Much like the nights when the Kings goalies — whoever it is in net — get lit up, you can’t quite saddle Crawford with most of the Blackhawks losses, not when you’ve got Brent Seabrook futilely sprawling on the ice or Brendan Manning doing whatever exactly it is that he does.
If there’s one player who’s going to be a difference maker for the Blackhawks in this game, it’s going to be Crawford. Crawford was fantastic against a motivated Blues squad on Wednesday, stopping all 28 shots he faced. Moreso than Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat or some surprise third-liner who will end up with his first goal of the season or something, it’ll be Crawford keeping his team in the game if the Kings are able to establish sustained pressure and dangerous chances.