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Game Day Preview #59, Los Angeles Kings @ Chicago Blackhawks

“Building off a win over the Sabres” isn’t where we thought this season would be, but here we are now.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (31-22-5) @ Chicago Blackhawks (25-26-8)

Game Time: 5:30 PM, NHLN, FS-W

These days, in a league that likes to emphasize parity, the slow forward march of time and mediocrity comes for all teams. The Kings have experienced it, with playoffs misses and disappointments over the past few seasons.

The Blackhawks, well — after two straight first-round exits, their nine-year streak of making the playoffs is all but over. At least one statistical model gives Chicago just a 1% chance of making the playoffs. (The Kings are hovering at 50%, which feels about right for a team that’s operating on the retool-on-the-fly model this season.)

For the Blackhawks, confidence and consistency are killing them this year. Their veteran players largely aren’t performing up to the standards expected of them via their big money contracts. Off-season acquisitions haven’t been able to contribute in the way the front office expected. Their all-star goaltender is out with a long-term injury, and even if he manages to come back in the waning weeks of the season, it won’t be enough.

Sound familiar?

Watching this year’s version of the Blackhawks is a lot like watching last year’s Kings — the talent is there, and there are some intriguing young prospects who will set the team up well for the future, but they’re unable to put all the pieces together to be able to compete right now. There are some bright spots — the emergence of Alex DeBrincat as every bit as skilled of a scorer as he was in juniors has often been the sole saving grace of having to watch Blackhawks’ games, and Nick Schmaltz is growing into his role as a center, and starting to leave behind the inconsistent play that’s previously plagued his game. But overall, this has been a frustrating, fruitless season for Chicago.

The Blackhawks are 2-7-1 in their last ten games; their two wins came against Nashville at the end of January, and, more surprisingly, a blow-out victory over the Capitals on Saturday. Based on Chicago’s play as of late — look at their disinterested 6-1 los against the Coyotes last Monday — no one expected them to come out and dominate the Capitals. And yet, they put on a clinic, massively outshooting the Caps and chasing Braden Holtby after two periods. Whether that game was a sign of a massive change in Chicago’s fortunes, or just a very unlucky night for the Capitals still remains to be seen.

This is the second time the Blackhawks and Kings have met this season; in December at the United Center, the teams played two periods of scoreless hockey before Christian Folin got the Kings on the board. While the Blackhawks tried to make things interesting by getting on the board in the final minutes, the Kings added two separate empty net goals for a final score of 3-1.

Both teams are out to prove something tonight — the Blackhawks want to show that they haven’t given up, and the Kings want to build off of a mostly dominant performance in Buffalo. The lines for tonight look to be the same as what the Kings iced in Buffalo. And while I was certainly skeptical of Tyler Toffoli on the third line with Kyle Clifford and Nate Thompson, two players not exactly known for their offensive prowess, the trio had some good looks against the Sabres. Still, it wouldn’t be a shock to see those lines get upended against Chicago if things start to go south.

Mike Amadio was moved back to center in Buffalo and looks poised to stay there, after a strong performance that included two goals in just over 11 minutes of ice time. And for as much time as I’ve spent criticizing Andy Andreoff, he’s looked less hapless as this season has gone on, and has been better at staying out of the penalty box, too. He’s even shown a time or two that he has some hands, when he really puts his mind to it. I don’t expect him to take the Trevor Lewis Career Trajectory, but if Andreoff can continue to be less of a liability and more of a warm body that occasionally helps make plays, that will go a long way to give the team some stability on the bottom line.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

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

Forbort - Doughty
Phaneuf - Martinez
Muzzin - Folin

Quick
(Kuemper)

Chicago Blackhawks

Saad - Toews - Wingels
Anisimov - Schmaltz - Kane
Sharp - Hartman - DeBrincat
Hinostrosa - Kampf - Bouma

Keith - Oesterle
Murphy - Seabrook
Dahlstrom - Gustafsson

Forsberg
(Berube)

Opposing Preview: Second City Hockey