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Game Day Watch: Kings, Panthers, and Overworked #1 Centers

Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov play more minutes than any other forward in the league. Makes sense... they’re good.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Los Angeles Kings Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 4:30 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: KABC AM 790
Stream: Fox Sports Go (requires cable subscription)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

if you’re a Kings fan: The Kings have gone 5-5-0 in their last ten games, which has been mediocre enough to lose ground to the four teams directly competing with them in the wild card standings. Fortunately, the Sharks and Flames have been struggling, meaning that though the Kings are technically on the outside looking in, they currently have the second-best point pace in the Pacific. It’s a dogfight, though. With Alec Martinez and Jonathan Quick likely to return to the ice tonight, they need to hit the ground running. Or skating.

if you’re a Panthers fan: The Panthers have gone 6-4-0 in their last ten games, which has been good enough to gain ground on the four teams directly ahead of them in the wild card standings. They’ve come along way from last place in the conference, and hockeyviz.com actually has them at 25% to make the playoffs now. The big story is Harri Sateri, who has taken South Florida by storm in his first NHL stint. He starts tonight.

if you’re a hockey fan: This game is smack in the middle of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies for much of the country. I’d say flip over right after the shirtless Tonga flag-bearer does his thing. (Spoilers?)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

for the Kings: Anze Kopitar. I love watching Kopitar pick up empty-net points as much as the next guy, but last night, he probably deserved something for his troubles. For the ninth time in his last ten games he put up a Corsi For% of 50% or better, and he did it with only two of his 18 faceoffs coming in the offensive zone. He’s only gotten better in the last few weeks...

... and he deserves to be second in the NHL in ice time among forwards, behind...

for the Panthers: Aleksander Barkov. One fun storyline from the last few NHL Drafts is counting how many players get compared to Kopitar (and Drew Doughty), but the title of Young Kopitar has already been claimed. Barkov has missed at least ten games in every year since his debut season, but this year he’s played 50 of 51 and has put up 47 points. Barkov is also earning plaudits for his play in the defensive zone and is leading all forwards in ice time, 24 seconds per game ahead of Kopitar and 43 seconds over teammate (and third-place) Vincent Trocheck. Anze’s fourth season, 2009-10, was his leaguewide coming-out party; Aleksander’s fifth is looking like his.

WATCH THIS

Good luck to Zac Leslie, now a member of the Chicago Wolves, who is making his team debut tonight. Give the way things have gone for Vegas, expect him to score a game-winner against the Kings at some point in the future.