Game Day Preview #27, Los Angeles Kings @ St. Louis Blues
Can the Kings build off of two big wins to beat the top team in the Western conference?
Preview: Los Angeles Kings (15-8-3) @ St. Louis Blues (17-7-1)
Game Time: 5:00 PM Pacific, FS-W
A win over the struggling Detroit Red Wings? Fine, that’s one thing.
A win in what was mostly a tightly fought game against one of the league’s most consistent juggernauts? That’s promising. Sure, the Kings’ win was a little opportunistic -- they didn’t really dominate in any way you slice it, statistically -- but they found a way to win.
WSH-LA Game Report. Kings were a little more opportunistic & relied on the counter-attack/defense to get this win. #GoKingsGo #Allcaps pic.twitter.com/QvAK39d7AR— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) December 1, 2017
And that’s how a hockey season goes, right? You don’t win every game that you dominate in, sometimes you just get lucky, and sometimes you capitalize on some weird bounces and mistakes by the other team. Two points are two points.
Another visit to St. Louis may need more than luck, and it’s almost definitely going to need some more of that opportunistic scoring.
Last time the Kings saw the Blues, it came at the tail end of a long road trip, and featured a brutal second period for the Kings, where they allowed three goals and the Blues doubled them up on shots. The final score was 4-2 and probably could have been worse.
The Kings aren’t rolling into St. Louis under ideal conditions this time, either, facing what was probably a late night of travel after the Washington game. The Blues had a day of rest after their 3-2 loss on Wednesday to Anaheim, a game where the Blues found themselves in a 3-0 hole by around three minutes into the second period. And while maybe one day isn’t enough to fully recover from meeting the Ducks, they’re still the better rested team.
The Kings will be facing off against Blues’ backup netminder Carter Hutton tonight, as the Blues have their own back-to-back to play, playing Minnesota on Saturday. Hutton’s been having an excellent season so far, with one loss in five starts and a 1.59 goals against average. Even though it’s a small sample size, statistically, this is the best season of Hutton’s career, and he’s certainly going to be looking to prove that his wins so far (Arizona, Carolina, Colorado, the Rangers when they were struggling) are more than just strong play against weak teams.
For the Kings to dash Hutton’s hopes, they definitely need to contain the monstrous second line of Schwartz/Schenn/Tarasenko. The trio combined for 18 goals and 48 overall points in the month of November. Brayden Schenn’s 19 points put him in a tie with Johnny Gaudreau and Phil Kessell for second-best in the NHL in November; ahead of them were Connor McDavid and Nate MacKinnon with 20 points each. (The top points-getter on the Kings for November was Anze Kopitar, with 14 points.)
The good (???) news is that scoring for the Blues drops off a cliff after those three; Paul Stastny is fourth on the list with nine points in November. Outside of that trio, no one has more than three goals each for the month. So if we’re going to talk line matching, Schwartz/Schenn/Tarasenko are going to have to draw the toughest defenders for the Kings.
Darcy Kuemper most likely draws this assignment for the Kings (presuming, of course that the Kings don’t want to play Jonathan Quick in back-to-back games). Kuemper’s had minimal exposure to the Blues in his career, as Minnesota rarely wanted to risk their back-up facing a divisional rival. He’s played parts of three games against them, with one loss and six goals against over just about 100 minutes of gametime, so not a significant body of work to draw any conclusions from. (With the Kings’ next matchup coming in Chicago on Sunday, and with Corey Crawford out with an unspecified injury, that leaves inexperienced backup Anton Forsberg manning the net for the Blackhawks. It’s theoretically possible that the Kings play Quick both nights here, and then let Kuemper take over in Chicago. We’ll see in a few hours.)
Much like playing a team like the Ducks, the Blues like to be physical and they like to try to force a team to play the way St. Louis wants to play. Not letting themselves get drawn into a St. Louis-style rough-and-tumble 60 minutes is going to be key to walking out of here sore, but with two points.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Shore - Toffoli
Gaborik - Kempe - Lewis
Jokinen - Dowd - Brodzinski
Muzzin - Doughty
MacDermid - Martinez
Forbort - Folin
St. Louis Blues
Jaskin - Stastny - Steen
Schwartz - Schenn - Tarasenko
Sobotka - Sundqvist - Berglund
Upshall - Brodziak - Thorburn
Edmundson - Pietrangelo
Gunnarsson - Parayko
Dunn - Bouwmeester
Opposing Preview: St. Louis Game Time