Since February 1, this team has gone 15-10-2, sitting right in the middle of the pack, points-wise, in the entire league.
Is it the Kings, underperforming and making their case for the playoffs all the more tenuous?
Is it the Coyotes, bouncing back from a terrible start and defying the expectations of people who see their spot in the standings and expect them to be a terrible team?
Surprise: it’s both teams!
That’s right, over the past two months, the Kings and the Coyotes have the exact same record. The Kings are trying to claw their way back into the playoffs after a dismal January, but are suffering from slow starts and inconsistent play.
The Coyotes, however, are finally finding their groove with most of their top players healthy and their goaltending situation finally solidified (thanks to, uh, well, the Kings). And while the Coyotes’ uptick in play comes too late to save their season, it means that a game against them isn’t one that can be seen as an easy two points for an opponent.
Look no further than the Coyotes’ last two games: on the road, they easily beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 and followed that up with a strong performance in Las Vegas last night, walking away with a 3-2 lead. While both the Lightning and Golden Knights have had their struggles lately, it’s also obvious that these are not the Coyotes of October and November.
The last time these teams met, the Coyotes proved just that as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead. And while the Kings would eventually tie it up, thanks to two late goals from Jeff Carter, they weren’t able to finish the job and lost in a shoot-out. It’s easy to say “I can’t believe this team went down 3-0 to the Coyotes”, but if you actually look at the way the Coyotes have been playing lately, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all.
The team’s top players are contributing on the scoresheet, with rookie Clayton Keller riding a ten game point streak. He’s got one goal against the Kings already this year, and is logging heavy minutes on the Coyotes’ top line.
And tonight finally marks the first time that Darcy Kuemper will face the Kings as, well, an ex-King. He was slated to start the last time these teams met, but illness had other plans. Kuemper has always played well against the Kings, as the Minnesota Wild learned any time they rolled him out in Staples Center. Will he still be tough for the Kings to crack? Or will the players be more aware of his tendencies now, after having him as a teammate?
Based on this morning’s skate, the Kings may be starting Jack Campbell, which means we may get a bit of New Backup vs. Old Backup drama, since we were denied it the last time the Coyotes and Kings played. Campbell has performed admirably in his limited outings, perhaps most impressively in his game against the Golden Knights. While it would have been easy to ride Jonathan Quick for both games in this back-to-back, the decision to start Campbell seems strangely responsible. Of course, expect him to have a very short leash, if things go awry quickly.
And ignore all of this if Jonathan Quick leads his team out onto the ice.
Other than Potential Goalie Drama, the only other change for the Kings is the addition of Kevin Gravel, necessitated by the hopefully short-term loss of Jake Muzzin.
Welcome, Kevin. Please have a nice, boring game where no one notices you because nothing wild happens when you’re on the ice. Thanks!
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Rieder - Carter - Toffoli
Pearson - Kempe - Lewis
Clifford - Thompson - Mitchell
Forbort - Doughty
Martinez - Phaneuf
Gravel - Folin
Panik - Stepan - Keller
Domi - Dvorak - Rinaldo
Martinook - Richardson - Cousins
Perlini - Strome - Fischer
Ekman-Larsson - Schenn
Chychrun - Goligoski
Murphy - Connauton
Opposing Preview: Five For Howling