Game Time: 7:00 PM, FS-W
No one from within the Kings’ camp is confirming it, but:
Jeff Carter will play tonight vs Edmonton.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) February 24, 2018
We may not know the truth until the Kings hit the ice, but a return today has been churning in the rumor mill for some time now.
UPDATE: Almost immediately after posting, the Kings confirmed that Carter’s been activated from Injured Reserve and will return to the line-up.
Reports out of practice indicate that Carter looks good, that he’s still a smooth, fast skater, and that he’s pretty much ready. Carter’s own assessment of his skating is a bit more downplayed (“I can skate in a straight line all day,” he said, before emphasizing that there are still other refinements that need to be made in his game.) but all indications seem to be that if Carter’s not in tonight, then his return is imminent.
Carter’s return will shift the Kings’ lines around. Rather than easing Carter back in, perhaps by letting him take limited shifts on the third line, he’s been practicing on his usual spot on the second line, between Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. That gives the team some flexibility down the middle, with Nate Thompson, Torrey Mitchell, Adrian Kempe, and Mike Amadio all capable of playing center. Their success on winning draws varies — it’s still something that Kempe struggles with, in particular — but the Kings went from having few reliable centers on their roster to having a whole bunch of players who are comfortable in the role.
But Carter or no, the Kings still have to contend with the Oilers. (Carter would help: since joining the Kings, Carter has 14 goals against the Oilers.) The Kings have won both of their matchups against Edmonton this year — a 5-0 blowout in January and a 5-2 win at the beginning of this month. And Edmonton has been historically unsuccessful in Los Angeles.
#Oilers have not defeated the Kings in Los Angeles since November 3, 2011.— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) February 24, 2018
Nikolai Khabibulin was in net for the Oilers in that game, and Ryan Smyth had the game-winning goal.
The Oilers are poised to be sellers at the trade deadline, well out of the playoff hunt, and players like Pat Maroon and Marc Letestu could be on the move. The team is average at best, winning just three of their last ten games. On Thursday night, the Oilers had a 2-0 lead against the Avalanche, then promptly blew it in the third period. They won in overtime, thanks largely to the dynamic play of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
The Oilers could ice the entirety of the Bakersfield Condors (seventh place in the AHL’s Pacific Division) tonight and they would still be dangerous, just because of McDavid and Draisaitl. And as no one in the league has figured out how to deal with McDavid’s speed, and as he keeps waltzing right around the Kings’ defense any time these teams match up, then winning the possession battle is going to be key tonight. If McDavid or Draisaitl have the puck, they’re going to be dangerous with it, end of discussion. They’ll surely see a lot of Anze Kopitar — and while Tobias Rieder practiced up with Kopitar and Brown, if he starts there, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get dropped back down, if he’s at all shaky against McDavid.
Kings lines are a mere suggestion here. We’re working under the assumption that Carter is indeed in, and that maybe we can all put away our prayer candles and shrines for now. The third and fourth lines are just guesses based off of practice; Jonny Brodzinski was returned to Ontario, so he’s the only player who for sure is going to be out. Paul LaDue was recalled, but unless Christian Folin is going to sit, it’s a little unclear as to why the Kings want to continue carrying eight defensemen.
After a sluggish, disappointing game against Dallas, the clock is ticking for the Kings to get back on track. Edmonton is in disarray, players are just waiting to get traded, and they’re not fighting for a playoff spot. These would be two very satisfying points to take, particularly before heading into a back-to-back with Vegas next week.
Look, don’t get your hopes up, but:
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Rieder – Kopitar – Brown
Pearson – Carter – Toffoli
Clifford – Thompson – Mitchell
Iafallo – Kempe – Andreoff
Forbort – Doughty
Phaneuf – Martinez
Muzzin – Folin
Lucic - McDavid - Draisaitl
Cammalleri - Strome - Slepyshev
Caggiula - Khaira - Pakarinen
Puljujarvi - Letestu - Kassian
Nurse - Larsson
Klefbom - Russell
Sekera - Benning
Opposing Preview: Copper and Blue