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Game Day Preview #56, Los Angeles Kings @ Washington Capitals

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The Kings look to end their road trip with a win.

Washington Capitals v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 4:00 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Japers Rink

February Road Trip Stats: 3-1-1

Did you think the Kings would come out of their road trip with this many wins? Did you, really? The Kings come into today’s final road game having earned seven points out of nine available. A regulation loss in Washington still keeps them above .500 for the trip. Even knowing that the wins came against some of the worst teams in the league, it’s encouraging to see the Kings largely hold their own against the Islanders, and come back to force overtime against the Bruins. 55 games is far too many games for a team to need to find any level of cohesion, but the Kings seem to be finally getting there — or getting close enough to being an actual, legitimate team that they’re within striking distance of a playoff spot. Whether you want them to be there in the standings or not, the guys actually look like they’re having fun again, and no matter what your actual job is, I think everyone can agree that your performance will improve if you actually enjoy coming to work each day.

The Kings wrap up their road trip tonight against the defending Stanley Cup champs, who have seen their own share of up and down games this season. A lot has changed for the Capitals since last year; Barry Trotz and goaltender guru Mitch Korn left for Long Island, well-loved player like Jay Beagle left in free agency, and the Capitals have had to learn to adapt to a new coach while seeing how long they can last on the good vibes of being Stanley Cup champs. The expectations are sky-high for the Capitals now that they’ve finally achieved hockey’s biggest prize, so the fact that they’re not having another league-leading season and, in fact, have looked mortal at some times is a bit startling to behold.

The Capitals lost seven in a row before embarking on their current six-game homestand tonight, one in which they’ve gone 3-1-1 to date. Their losses in this stint are a 1-0 loss to the Bruins and a wild 5-4 overtime loss to the Panthers. They’re trying to go out on a high note before they hit the road and will look to the Kings as easy picking. Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has been huge for the Caps lately, putting up eight points in his last five games, including the game tying goal against Florida on Saturday. He’s third on the team in points, right behind the always excellent Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Also keep an eye on forward Andre Burakovsky, who’s both having a down year and is the subject of trade rumors. If the Capitals are truly looking to shop him around, he may get more looks in this game to show him off.

The Kings hope to head back to LA with a win — or, barring a win, another strong team performance that they can build off of for the rest of the season. Tyler Toffoli and Adrian Kempe have both finally found their stride this season, and seeing confidence from them is an encouraging sign. This road trip has shown the resilient streak that we saw a ton of times last season, but very rarely this year so far. The Kings being scored on multiple times in succession against the Bruins would have been a nightmare scenario for the team earlier this year, one in which they would have melted down and not been able to regroup. But they came together as a team and bounced back to push overtime — certainly not the outcome I expected after Brad Marchand’s shorthanded goal.

The Capitals will be a stiffer challenge than any of the other teams they’ve faced so far on this trip. A full-team buy-in to tonight’s game plan will go far to keep the game manageable.

In lineup notes, Sean Walker is in, swapping places with Paul LaDue. Trevor Lewis looks ready to make his return to the ice, putting Austin Wagner out as a healthy scratch. Debate that as you see fit.

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