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Game Day Preview #15, Minnesota Wild @ Los Angeles Kings

These teams met just two weeks ago; will the new, slightly improved Kings get a different outcome this time?

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 7:30 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Hockey Wilderness

Where Has This Team Been?

It’s the Kings, so we find ourselves saying this several times a season, but: where has this team been all along? Yes, this team still has a long way to go, as some of the same mistakes that plagued them during their losing streak — difficulty entering the zone, turnovers, somewhat lazy defense — are still popping up. But between this game and the Columbus game, it seems almost as if the Kings have turned a corner. Their play in the last two games — one under John Stevens, one under Willie Desjardins — has shown that this team does have some life left in it yet. Minnesota will be a tougher challenge than Anaheim (2-6-2 in their last 10) and Columbus (5-4-1 in their last 10), however.

They’re playing with energy and pace and are trying to do all the right things with the puck. They’re keeping it simple (see Jeff Carter’s power play tally against Columbus) but also not afraid to get creative when the opportunity is there (Jack Campbell’s stretch pass to Tyler Toffoli in the Anaheim game). That part is important. They’re not forcing plays as badly as they were during their losing streak. Based on the eye test, they’re giving up far fewer odd-man rushes, something which hurt them in the losses to the Islanders and Flyers. They’re not pressing so hard in the offensive and neutral zones that they’re leaving themselves open to potential disaster.

Who are you guys? Where were you? We missed you!

Your Best Players, Etc. Etc.

We all know the saying: you need your best players to be your best players. Slowly but surely, the Kings’ top players are stepping up.

Ilya Kovalchuk: A point-per-game player, sitting at 14 points in 14 games. He has nine points in the past five games. Three of those are multi-point outings.

Jeff Carter: Always a slow starter, Carter now has a three-game points streak and is looking more locked in than he did earlier in the season.

Drew Doughty: He’s had more than his share of bad games so far this season, but when Doughty is on, he’s on. Hoping for more outings where he plays his own game instead of trying to do too much.

Jack Campbell: He’s not Jonathan Quick, but he’s been keeping the Kings in games, and appears to be working on his tendency to allow goals to be banked off of him and into the net.

Kyle Clifford: No one’s going to argue that Clifford is the best player on this team, and he and his fourth line compatriots have taken more than their share of criticism in the hockey world. But lately, they’ve been bringing energy and emotion to games that’s been sorely missing.

More of this, please:

The Opposition

We meet again, so soon?

The Wild have been doing quite a bit of the “scoring by committee” thing so far this season. Their leading goal scorer, Mikael Granlund, is sitting on six goals; 15 different Wild players have found the back of the net this season.

The disjointed, dispassionate game against the Wild on the road just two weeks ago was one of the final nails in the coffin for John Stevens’ tenure with this team, and the Wild are going to want more of that game and less of whatever the Kings are doing right now.

As Hockey Wilderness discovered, the Wild are excelling at preventing shots against, and at keeping pucks (and players) away from Devan Dubnyk. The Wild allow relatively few shots from high danger areas; most shots against are coming from back at the blue line. So if there’s one key to a Kings win tonight, it’s going to be to put as much traffic on net as possible. If they’re not able to break through the Wild’s defense, to get pucks in up close, then Dustin Brown and his fellow netfront-presence men are going to have to work at getting some ugly, ugly goals.

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