HOW TO WATCH
Game Time: 1:00 PM Pacific
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Fear the Fin
Secret to Success
Perhaps the secret to success, if you’re rooting for a Kings win, is my unrelenting terror in face of this struggling Kings squad facing off against a legitimate team. Sometimes the fears are founded — a 7-3 loss to Colorado, 5-3 to Nashville, 4-1 to Columbus — but sometimes the Kings pull out a surprise and keep it together for 60 minutes against the Western Conference-leading Winnipeg Jets (4-1) or a surprisingly bitter rival (5-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights).
Still, though. The Kings have three wins in their last ten games and are dwelling in the absolute basement of the league. Even the Blackhawks have been able to string together a few feel-good wins as the team otherwise limped through the 2018 calendar year. A win today won’t vault the Kings out of last place — two points would give them 29 on the season, still keeping them behind Arizona and St. Louis (30 points each).
So, we’re going to be down here for a while. A win against the Sharks is probably not something to be expected. Let’s not get out hopes up for a feel-good win or anything. We only get those like once every five games or so. It’s clearly too close to the Winnipeg triumph for another one.
(I’m rooting for the feel-good win.)
While the team hasn’t officially activated him yet, all signs point to Ilya Kovalchuk getting back into the lineup today. He’s skating with Brendan Leipsic and Nate Thompson, and if you’re thinking to yourself, “wow, Ilya Kovalchuk probably deserves a better center than Nate Thompson”, you are absolutely correct. With Adrian Kempe moved back to wing (and taking some time to adjust back to the position, by his own admission), Mike Amadio centering the fourth line, and the ever-versatile Trevor Lewis still injured, Thompson is the only choice for a coach who seems determined not to play Kovalchuk in the top six.
As we said earlier in the week, the fact that Kovalchuk is returning from ankle surgery should insulate Willie Desjardins for a while against the concern over Kovalchuk’s usage and diminished ice time. I’d almost put money on Desjardins answering any questions about Kovalchuk’s playing time with some variation on, “well, he’s just returning from surgery, we want to ease him back in.” Still, Brendan Leipsic and Nate Thompson is probably not who Kovalchuk imagined himself playing alongside when he signed a contract with the Kings. This situation will rear its head again before long.
Based on the practice lines, it also looks like Nikita Scherbak is going to be a healthy scratch today. Desjardins doesn’t quite know what to do with the Russian winger, who shows promise as a playmaker, but still has the defensive growing pains that come with being a young player used inconsistently who has hardly played yet for any team this season due to injury and being scratched. While Kovalchuk-gate may be paused a bit, we can instead turn to Scherback-gate.
Jonathan Quick is expected to start in net tonight. He played against the Sharks in the Kings’ opening-night game, lost in overtime, and was promptly injured. We’ll see if this outing goes any better.
Martin Jones has not been having a particularly good season. The former Kings netminder is experiencing the worst statistical season of his career, and it can’t all be blamed on the team in front of him. Of goalies with more than 500 minutes of time on ice this season — so, excluding backups who haven’t had to take on larger than expected roles — Jones has the lowest even strength save percentage in the league; per Corsica, he’s sitting on an 89.46 save percentage. Jones’ stats have him in league with players like Mike Smith (not good), Juuse Saros (backup getting slightly more starts than expected), Roberto Luongo (injured, behind a bad team), Matt Murray (dealing with injuries and inconsistency behind an okay team), and Corey Crawford (behind a bad team, now injured). Jones’ high danger save percentage is sitting at 74.81%, ahead only of Andrei Vasilevsky.
Jones’ performance in many areas is worse than a league average goalie; looking at his Goals Saved Against Average stats (that is, looking at the league average save percentage against the number of shots a particular goalie has faced, as compared to the number of goals that goalie has actually allowed), Jones is in the league basement with a -10.72. That means he’s allowing in nearly 11 more goals than your league average goalie. (If you’re curious, Jonathan Quick is at -2.61, Jack Campbell is at 0.45 — so just about league average goaltending, and Cal Petersen leads the pack at 6.95.)
All of that said, Jones has always performed admirably against the Kings. He’s 10-3-2 against his former team since he moved up north, with a Goals Against Average of 2.05. No starter has been announced yet for the Sharks, and while Jones has struggled for large portions of this year, it would make sense to start him in a game where he’s traditionally enjoyed success, albeit likely with a short leash.
The Sharks have had a bit of an odd season — somewhat slow to start, losing five of their first 10, a four-game losing streak around Thanksgiving, a five-game winning streak highlighted by some close calls. Jones allowed three goals on four shots to the Chicago Blackhawks before being pulled in favor of Aaron Dell. The Sharks went on to score five unanswered goals to win that one, but still, three goals on four shots to Chicago of all teams shouldn’t happen. (It would be sort of like someone allowing the Kings to score three times in one period. Wild, right?)