So, friends, after two wins against Vegas — one hard fought, one more dominant from the start — how are you feeling? Exhilarated? Hopeful? Wary? Paranoid? A little of all of the above?
Personally, I’m a little exhausted, and all I did was watch the game from my couch.
The Kings had something to prove in those last two games. Vegas has stymied them in their previous meetings, and I certainly despaired of the Kings ever figuring out exactly how to get past them. But then, something magical happened, especially in Tuesday’s game: the Kings by and large dictated the game. They let Ryan Reaves run around and take penalties, but they didn’t stoop to his level. Jack Campbell faced perhaps more shots than he should have had to, but he was calm in net, made adjustments to his game as he went on, and for the most part, the Kings did a great job of clearing the crease out so Campbell could see the shots he was facing.
Those two wins honestly felt a little cathartic to me — exorcising a little bit of an unexpected demon, maybe.
The Kings are back at home, probably feeling good — but sore — after their Vegas wins. (Per Natural Stat Trick, the Kings doled out 68 hits combined in the games; Christian Folin leads the team with 11 hits over those two games.)
Tonight’s tilt against Columbus is one of the few non-Western Conference matchups remaining on the schedule, and, much like the Kings, the they’re fighting for a spot in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets had a rough February, losing eight out of 13 games last month. They’ve had a five-game losing streak which helped dump them out of the top three in the Metropolitan Division. Instead, they’re currently clinging to the last Wild Card spot in the East, seven points behind the third place Penguins. There’s a log jam of teams right behind them, so they can’t afford to lose any ground.
Sounds familiar, eh?
The Blue Jackets have an elite scorer (Artemi Panarin), a rookie two-way center who’s really found his way in the league as the season has gone on (Pierre-Luc Dubois), a out-of-this-world top pairing defense (Seth Jones and Zach Werenski) and, uh. Grit. (Brandon Dubinsky) On paper, they should probably be a better team than they are. Their power play is currently 30th in the league (15.4%), the penalty kill is 27th (76.5%). They’re 28th in goals scored (162), just above teams like the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres. Unsurprisingly, as Sergei Bobrovsky goes, so do the Blue Jackets — he’s come back down to earth somewhat after his phenomenal Vezina-winning season last year, and has a record of 27-20-5, the most regulation losses he’s had since 2013-14.
It’s not Bobrovsky the Kings will see tonight, though: Joonas Korpisalo will be in net, making his first appearance against the Kings. Korpisalo has five wins in 11 starts, but much worse stats than Bobrovsky. He’s allowed nine goals in his last two starts and overall has a 3.15 GAA this season. (He did win his only start in January, allowing only one goal against the Stars.)
The Kings don’t look to be changing anything up, which means that your extras are still Andy Andreoff, Paul LaDue, and Kevin Gravel. After two strong wins against Vegas, you can’t quite complain about it, particularly as some of the Kings’ biggest mistakes were mental lapses from some of their bigger stars on defense (turnovers, weak clearing attempts, etc.).
Of course, there’s always Jeff Carter, who seems to relish playing against the Blue Jackets more than he does the Flyers. He missed the joyful experience of being booed in Columbus this year, but given how often he seems to score against his former team, perhaps he will make up for only playing this game in the series by getting on the scoresheet tonight.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Thompson - Kempe - Rieder
Clifford - Amadio - Mitchell
Forbort - Doughty
Phaneuf - Martinez
Muzzin - Folin
Columbus Blue Jackets
Panarin - Dubois - Atkinson
Vanek - Wennberg - Foligno
Milano - Dubinsky - Bjorkstrand
Jenner - Letestu - Calvert
Werenski - Jones
Johnson - Murray
Cole - Savard
Opposing Preview: The Cannon