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Game Day Preview #63, Vegas Golden Knights @ Los Angeles Kings

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Time to take on our surprising nemesis.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Los Angeles Kings Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Vegas Golden Knights (41-16-4) @ Los Angeles Kings (33-24-5)

Game Time: 7:30 PM, FS-W

After Saturday night, all I’m asking for is to get through this game without controversy. No mad scramble at the finish, no maybe-bogus goaltender interference calls. No drama.

While we’re at it, a full 60 minutes of effort would be nice.

A girl can dream, I guess.

With the trade deadline behind us, Rob Blake has shown that the team we have is the team we have. With the exception of Jonny Brodzinski, back over in Ontario, there are no other reinforcements coming. Jeff Carter was the team’s trade deadline acquisition, as the front office has been saying all along. So the Kings are what they are, and now it’s up to the players — secure in their spots now — to make the push to see if they can prove doubters wrong.

No better time to prove it than tonight, against a team that has frustrated and perplexed the Kings all season long.

In fairness to the Kings, the Vegas Golden Knights have frustrated and perplexed just under half of the league — they only have 20 losses (in regulation or overtime/shootout), to seventeen different teams. That’s eleven others who haven’t been able to solve Vegas yet (twelve, if you count New Jersey, who inexplicably hasn’t played Vegas yet). The Kings are in good company, but that’s not really a comfort when important points are on the line.

At the trade deadline, Vegas was rumored to be in the mix for the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes.

They weren’t able to come to a deal with Ottawa, but walked away with Detroit’s Tomas Tatar instead (plus Ryan Reaves, from a few days ago). While not having to see any more of Karlsson than necessary is a big plus, the fact that Vegas’ front office believes in their team so much that they’d be willing to pay an exorbitant amount for one of the league’s top defenders is, uh.

What’s the word I’m looking for?

Terrifying.

Vegas has a very strong team identity. More than just being a rag-tag group of guys with chips on their shoulders, they are tenacious. There have been very few games where this team looks like they’re not putting out max effort at all times. Vegas isn’t a team that lets up at all — they’ve got 73 third period goals, only a few spots behind the Kings. When they get a lead, they tend to keep it. Vegas is second in goals per game (3.49, right behind Tampa Bay). Despite an undending goaltending carousel, they are in the top ten in goals against (2.69, right behind Anaheim and Columbus). Looking at stats since the start of 2018, they have the second-best power play in the league (29%). Their only weakness might conceivably be the penalty kill — 10th in the league since January 1 (81.8%) and trending even further downward if you just look at February performance.

Is there even a key to beating Vegas? Pretend it’s a playoff game? Remind yourself with every shift that your team desperately needs these points? Or maybe don’t remind yourself at all, if you know you’re going to get psyched out about it. Regardless, this Kings team needs to come out tonight with an energy and passion we’ve only rarely seen them muster up this season.

The lineup is essentially the same tonight as it was against the Oilers, although the First Line Tobias Rieder experiment ended fairly quickly. He didn’t look terrible there, and certainly got a few good looks — he played over 16 minutes and had a ridiculous six shots on goal. But perhaps the familiarity of the Iafallo/Kopitar/Brown line was too much to ignore. Besides, the Kempe/Amadio/Iafallo line didn’t last for very long on Saturday; all three players spent time being shuffled around. Putting Thompson with Kempe and Rieder gives a heavy, experienced presence to back up the two speedy players, and all he really needs to do is just get to the net. Thompson can also step in on face-offs; he’s at 50% with the Kings (his career average is 52.3%) while Kempe is still struggling in that area, winning just 39.82% of his draws).

The lack of change on the blue line is a little troubling; Folin seems to have faded down the stretch, and the team isn’t likely to health scratch any of the other five players any time soon, no matter how poorly they’ve played. But Paul LaDue, who is good at moving the puck up the ice, sitting as a scratch is frustrating to see. He’s still a work in progress, but for a team who’s had some problems even getting into the offensive zone, playing him more is a risk worth taking.

All the front office work is done. From here on out, it’s all on the coaches and players.

If all else fails, maybe we can swap Hilary Knight in for one of the Kings. She’s pretty darn good.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Thompson - Kempe - Rieder
Andreoff - Amadio - Mitchell

Forbort - Doughty
Phaneuf - Martinez
Muzzin - Folin

Quick
(Campbell)

Vegas Golden Knights

Smith - Karlsson - Marchessault
Perron - Haula - Neal
Carpenter - Eakin - Tuch
Nosek - Lindberg - Reaves

McNabb - Schmidt
Engelland - Theodore
Miller - Sbisa

Fleury
(Lagace)

Opposing Preview: Knights on Ice