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Game Day Preview #42, Tampa Bay Lightning @ Los Angeles Kings

No pressure, it’s only the best team in the league.

Los Angeles Kings v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 7:30 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Raw Charge

Halfway There

With the Kings halfway through their season, we’ll have some pieces up in the near future looking at what we know about who exactly this team is, and what they might look like in the future.

For now, though, this is the lineup we’ve got. This is the team we’ve got. A team that put together a string of decent performances, but struggled to stay consistent for any amount of time. That is, of course, what one expects from a bad team. It is what it is.

As the Kings descend further into a lost season, the time comes to start evaluating the players we do have, as Rob Blake looks to decide how many players precisely he can jettison for picks, prospects, futures, and a fresh start. While Blake doesn’t necessarily have say over who Willie Desjardins puts on the ice on any given night, it’s safe to say we should start seeing more young players and possible trade deadline moves (hello, Carl Hagelin, how’s that knee doing?) get more ice time. (I’m sure the Lightning will like that; they’ve heavily scouted the Kings all season long, so there’s certainly something here they’re interested in.)

In a game like tonight, letting the youth movement lead the way could go a long way to make the game at least somewhat interesting. Players like Austin Wagner, Matt Luff, and Brendan Leipsic have the speed to compete with the Lightning, if not necessarily the complete, well-rounded skill-set yet. I hope to get to see more of them doing their best to create havoc, and maybe they’ll at least make it a little harder for the Lightning to just have their way with the Kings tonight.

Lineup Notes

We’ll see a few lineup swaps, as Tyler Toffoli heads to the third line; Brendan Leipsic and Ilya Kovalchuk will flank Jeff Carter on the second. Nikita Scherbak comes back into the lineup, playing alongside Adrian Kempe and Toffoli. Kyle Clifford will be your healthy scratch for the evening. Defense looks to be the same as previous games, with Paul LaDue on the outside.

Dustin Brown will play his 1077th career regular season game tonight. This ties him with Luc Robitaille at second for all-time games played for the Kings.

The Opposition

Would you like to know how many games the Tampa Bay Lightning lost in the month of December?

(No, you don’t.)

One. They lost one game, and it was an overtime loss to Winnipeg, with the winning goal coming with less than a minute left in the three-on-three portion of the evening’s entertainment.

One game!

Total, overtime and regulation losses, the Lightning haven’t even lost ten games yet. (They’ve got seven regulation losses and two overtime losses.) They’re 14-0-1 in their last 15 games. I didn’t think that was allowed to happen. They haven’t even looked vulnerable at any point, not even when starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy missed time with an injury.

For any sports site that does any sort of power ranking, the Lightning consistently come out on top, and for valid reasons. The Lightning are the top team in the league — their 64 points puts them 10 ahead of their next closest competition (the Maple Leafs and Flames are tied with 54 points). Not only are they good at playing with a lead (13-1-1 when leading after the first), but they’re very good at coming back from behind (9-4-0 when trailing after the first). It’s hard to find anything that they actually struggle with. I mean, they have Steven Stamkos on their second line, for crying out loud. When your depth is such that you’re like “ah, yes, let’s put one of the league’s best goal scorers on the second line”, you’re pretty well situated for success.

This will be the Lightning’s first game of 2019, having had a few days off after playing on December 31. While normally we’d speculate about a team shaking off the rust, I’ll just go ahead and assume that this won’t be a challenge for the Lightning.

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