Game Day Preview #47, New York Rangers @ Los Angeles Kings
Not calling this a “must win”. Gonna call it a “hey guys we should really maybe give winning this one our very best shot” instead.
Preview: New York Rangers (24-18-5) @ Los Angeles Kings (24-17-5)
Game Time: 7:30 PM, FS-W
Tonight, the Kings look with desperation to the visiting New York Rangers as they try to snap their six-game losing streak, the longest active losing streak in the NHL. It’s a bit too much of a call back to last season — top players not getting the job done, depth scoring all but gone — and perhaps what the Kings have going for them now is the fact that they have Jonathan Quick in net.
I’ve been, uh, quick to criticize Quick for his role in this losing streak, but he was great against Anaheim, doing more than his share to keep his team in a game in which they only mustered 15 shots in the first two periods (Anaheim had 17 in the first alone). A steady Quick will give the Kings a chance most every night, but that means the Kings are going to have to find a way to break through the opposing team’s defense, something they’ve struggled with as of late.
For the Kings, Adrian Kempe is projected to go back to centering the second line. While he looked like a good fit on the top line with Anze Kopitar, moving Kempe off of center re-emphasized how thin the Kings are for solid, playmaking depth down the middle, with Jeff Carter still out. Trevor Lewis and Tyler Toffoli will shuffle spots on the wing — Lewis up could help provide more a physical, defensive presence with Pearson/Kempe, and Toffol down may be more about trying to create depth scoring than anything else.
Not that anyone has been a particularly big offensive threat on the Kings as of late. Kempe and Lewis have three goals each since the start of the month, and the team as a whole only has 16 goals in that time span. (That’s good for 25th in the league. The Rangers, middle of the pack as always, have 21 goals for.)
The team is saying the right things — play hard, with urgency, for a full 60 minutes a night — and they don’t look consistently terrible. They look just good enough to give a fan a little bit of hope.
But we’ve gone down this route before — I have the increasingly delirious game previews from last season to prove it.
The Rangers come to Los Angeles in a similarly sticky situation of their own. They’re clinging to a wild card spot in the East, but the Penguins and Islanders are right behind them. That trio have been essentially swapping spaces all season, and it’s not hard to see the East’s playoff picture being murky right up to the wire.
A look at the Rangers recent record reveals a team not too different from the Kings. They’ve won four of their last ten, but those wins have come against Buffalo (twice), Arizona, and Philadelphia. (The Flyers currently occupy the other wild card spot in the East.) Inconsistent play, poor effort, and bizarre coaching choices have put the Rangers’ chances of long-term success this season in doubt.
Worse for the Rangers is that they’re dealing with two long-term injuries: Chris Kreider is out indefinitely after doctors discovered a blot clot in his right arm, and Kevin Shattenkirk was recently shut down for surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The injuries, combined with the up-and-down season the Rangers have had, are leading some to say that the Rangers should be sellers at the trade deadline, rather than trying to gear up for a playoff run that they may not get through.
The Rangers come into Staples off of a loss to the Colorado Avalanche, who are, strangely enough, apparently good now? The Rangers were shorthanded, as in addition to the Kreider and Shattenkirk injuries, they were also without Kevin Hayes, Michael Grabner, and Marc Staal due to injuries/illness. (Hayes has already been confirmed as out tonight, Staal is a gametime decision, and Grabner is confirmed to be back in.)
Much like the Kings and Jonathan Quick, the Rangers have been relying on Henrik Lundqvist to keep them in games. Other teams are able to pounce on the Rangers’ mistakes, and they’re not often able to summon the offensive firepower to make up for them, especially late in the game.
We’ve either got ourselves a 1-0 goalie duel, or a 6-5 overtime win.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Kempe - Lewis
Clifford - Shore - Toffoli
Gaborik - Amadio - Mitchell
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
Gravel - Folin
New York Rangers
Nash - Zibanejad - Buchnevich
Vesey - Miller - Zuccarello
Carey - Holland - Fast
Grabner - Desharnais - Lettieri
McDonagh - Holden
Skjei - Kampfer
Smith - DeAngelo
Opposing Preview: Blueshirt Banter