Game Time: 7:30 PM, FS-W
Have you had time to mentally recover from that game against Chicago? Do you look at the Kings and feel maybe, say, a low-grade frustration rather than explosive rage? I hope you’re in a good spot with the team, because after several days off to sit and think about what they’ve done, the Kings are back on the ice tonight.
After a complete and total meltdown, both defensively and disciplinary, last week, the Kings don’t get to ease back into playing by perhaps getting to feast on a weaker team. Instead, they get the Capitals.
The Capitals have had a season as marked by inconsistency, scoring droughts, and goaltender struggles as the Kings have. Aside from Alex Ovechkin, who continues to be, well, Alex Ovechkin, the Caps’ struggles to find the net have been spread up and down the lineup. TJ Oshie hasn’t scored since January 31. Andre Burakovsky has endured significant goalless streaks, including a nine-game span in December and January. Depth winger Devante Smith-Pelly, goalless since January 31. Veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik, often the focus of ire of Caps fans, has no goals this year and hasn’t had an assist since January 25. (Never a prolific scorer, he hasn’t scored a goal since February 26, 2016.)
The Caps looked dominant against the Maple Leafs in their outdoor matchup, but then just days later were shutout by the Ducks, with a final score of 4-0. They’ve had strong wins against good teams (5-2 against the Wild) and miserable losses to bad teams (a still-inexplicable 7-1 against the Blackhawks). No one can figure the Capitals out right now, up to and including the Capitals.
The streaky scoring wouldn’t be so much of a problem if Braden Holtby was performing up to his usual standard. He’s been pulled in three of his last ten starts and has allowed three or more goals in seven of his last ten. His game is struggling, and as your goaltender goes, so does your team. Former NHL goalie Brent Johnson had an interesting thread on Twitter today, specifically focusing on what’s gone wrong with Holtby this year; the answer is mostly fatigue. (You can read that thread and swap in Jonathan Quick’s name and still get the same meaning from it, as it’s certainly true been true for the Kings’ often overworked netminder.)
5- Some starting goalies get away with playing sub-par games down the stretch because their respective teams get the job done in front of them. Therefore the from the outside, the goalie keeps winning and the people in power keep them playing and playing...— Brent Johnson (@JohnnyGoalie12) March 8, 2018
7- His puck handling and depth thru traffic (or lack there-of) have not been as sharp as they were in December. Which leads me to believe that he may very well be low on petrol. Also, this can put stress on his confidence and self reliance.— Brent Johnson (@JohnnyGoalie12) March 8, 2018
11- Note: a goalie, especially during the peak of his career, doesn’t just forget how to stop a puck. The body is just reacting in unusual ways because the mind is weary. Coaches around the league should take notice when they start to see a pattern of uneven play.— Brent Johnson (@JohnnyGoalie12) March 8, 2018
So instead of Holtby, we’ll see Philipp Grubauer, which is better news for the Capitals than it is for the Kings. As the Kings tend to do, they have the ability to make backup goaltenders look phenomenal, and not to take anything away from Grubauer, who has really developed into an excellent goalie over the past few years, but he looks positively elite against the Kings. In three games, he has two wins, one shutout, and only four goals allowed, with a save percentage of .960, which just feels unfair.
But enough about the Capitals. Let’s talk about Trevor Lewis!
Yes, everyone’s favorite American Hero is poised to return to the lineup after injury. That bumps Tobias Rieder out of the lineup, which is good for my brain not misfiring when seeing someone wearing a #10 jersey, at least. The fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Nate Thompson, and Torrey Mitchell will do exactly what you think they’ll do, which is take up time and hopefully not get scored on.
The problem in the last game, though, didn’t hinge on a spare forward or a line of grinders. The problem against Chicago was discipline and attitude. John Stevens has talked a lot this season about self-inflicted wounds: turnovers, lazy puck management, miscommunication on the ice. The undisciplined play by the Kings, combined with some questionable calls from the officials, combined with Drew Doughty’s poor attitude, all resulted in putting the Kings in a hole of their own making.
So watching this game tonight, the key isn’t going to be how many minutes Tyler Toffoli plays, or whether or not Dion Phaneuf plays (he’s been ill and is a game-time decision), or what combination of forwards make up the fourth line. The key is this team maintaining its composure and not being the architects of their own loss.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Kempe - Amadio - Lewis
Clifford - Thompson - Mitchell
Forbort - Doughty
Phaneuf - Martinez
Muzzin - Folin
Ovechkin - Backstrom - Wilson
Vrana - Kuznetsov - Oshie
Connolly - Eller - Burakovsky
Smith-Pelly - Beagle - Chiasson
Kempny - Carlson
Orlov - Niskanen
Orpik - Jerabek
Opposing Preview: Jasper’s Rink