Game Day Preview #10, Los Angeles Kings @ Minnesota Wild
The Wild come into this game well-rested, on a three game winning streak. The Kings — well, we know what they’ve been up to.
HOW TO WATCH
Game Time: 5:00 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Hockey Wilderness
While you never really want to have to exercise your penalty kill unit too often during a game, if you know that your players are going to be able to keep the puck out of the net, then two minutes in the box is not the end of the world.
When your penalty kill is operating at 70.8% — 28th in the league — maybe, however, you take a little more care in your overall discipline.
It’s one thing to take a penalty in the prevention of what would probably be a sure goal. It’s another thing entirely to haul down an opponent for no reason other than carelessness while in the offensive zone.
Which brings us to Adrian Kempe.
His 14 penalty minutes in nine games lead the Kings. Seven minor penalties puts him second in the league for most minors taken, right behind Evander Kane with 10, and Kane generally plays a much more physical game than Kempe does. And while John Stevens said last year that he’d welcome goaltender interference penalties because his players are in the opposing goalie’s way for a screen, this isn’t what Kempe’s doing. It’s a careless hold here, a needless shrug there, and more often than not, as a result, the puck ends up in the Kings’ net.
Mike Stothers told Kempe repeatedly that he’d be the best player on the ice if he’d just move his feet. (There were some expletives in there, of course.) Avoiding thoughtless penalties have long been a part of Kempe’s game that he’s needed to work on, and to be fair, at times last season, he showed growth, that he could think on his feet and avoid situations where he would otherwise be penalized. It seems like Kempe, like most players on the Kings, is trying to do too much himself, and getting careless in the process. He’s not thinking, which is pretty endemic on the team this season, only Kempe’s version of “not thinking” is putting his team at a disadvantage.
He’s been bumped down to center the third line, at least based off of practice lines, and paired with Kyle Clifford and Nate Thompson, at least Kempe probably won’t get many opportunities to take offensive zone penalties.
Keep Up The Better Work?
The Kings showed flashes of what makes them a tough team to play against in Dallas. Dangerous players like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were limited to just one shot each at even strength, and Seguin in particular was highly out-chanced by the Kings when he was on the ice. Once again it was bottom-six players like Blake Comeau who did the most damage to the Kings.
But the team that we’ve enjoyed being frustrated by for seasons now — they’re in there somewhere. They showed it in their tenacity on the puck, on battles up against the wall, in a handful of sweet zone entries by Ilya Kovalchuk, who can still fake out opponents, even if he’s not on track to score all the goals for the team. The Kings absolutely dominated the the third period against the Stars, who were limited to just two shots in the third period, and both of those came on a Stars power play. For a little while, at least, the Kings looked like a team who could come back from behind.
So they need to bottle that up and remember that for tonight. There’s a better team lurking in there somewhere, they’ve just got to find it.
Tonight marks Ryan Suter’s 1000th NHL game. The Wild will honor him with a ceremony before their next home game so this one, at least, will start on time.
The Wild play a game that’s much more the Kings’ speed, and Bruce Boudreau is a familiar bench boss to all of them. This isn’t a team that’s going to try to impress with speed and flash, and their style is certainly more methodical than fast and loose. The Kings don’t want to get sucked into trying to play the Wild’s game, because they’ll be content to slow it way down and frustrate the Kings.
The Wild are on a three-game winning streak right now, posting wins against Arizona, Dallas, and Tampa Bay last week before getting several days off. And while the Wild are struggling to score first, they’re excelling at coming back from a decifict; they’re tied for first in the league for comeback wins. In fact, the Wild have lost both games where they’ve scored first. Given that the Kings haven’t scored first since their win in Montreal, this could be an interesting test of statistics for both teams tonight.
The Wild are led in scoring by Zach Parise, with ten points through eight games. Their roster as a whole has relatively few young players on it. Rookie Jordan Greenway, a massive forward who’s listed at 6’6”, has played in all eight games for the Wild so far, with one assist. Joel Eriksson Ek played nearly a full season at the NHL level last year, but has been dealing with injuries and needs better linemates in order to succeed. The only other player on the Wild’s roster younger than 25 is Matt Dumba, who has been in the league since the 2013-14 season.