Game Day Preview #49, Los Angeles Kings @ Calgary Flames
Breathe. Hit reset.
Preview: Los Angeles Kings (25-18-5) @ Calgary Flames (25-16-6)
Game Time: 7:00 PM, FS-W
The comforting thing to do would be pretend that last night’s matchup in Vancouver never happened. Just skim on past it, toss it in the garbage, don’t think about it anymore.
But while that might be fun, the fact is: here we are again, as the Kings just give away points right and left to divisional rivals, which gives games against Calgary even more meaning. The Flames are the Kings’ most direct competitors for a playoff position right now; with 56 points, the Kings could leapfrog them for the third seed in the West with a win. The wild card slots get complicated because of how well almost the entirety of the Central is doing (looking at you, Chicago). The Kings really do need to set their sights on that third seed, since it’s possible that both wild cards will be Central teams.
And so: Calgary.
Their sneaky win streak this season has catapulted them up the standings, given them confidence, and perfectly positioned them to be the spoiler to the Kings’ playoff hopes. Again.
We’ve seen Calgary twice this season, both losses: the first a 4-3 loss in overtime and the second, a 4-3 loss in regulation. That second game is really what started this free-fall for the Kings, as they had a 2-0 lead going into the second, where they promptly allowed four goals. Sure, the cracks had been showing in this team for a while before, but the complete debacle of that second period against Calgary really seemed to spark the start of something terrible.
We know who the Flames are at this point. They’re — oh, gosh, I tried so hard not to do this, but the words are just right there — young, scrappy and hungry. They’re trying to prove themselves after a disappointing first round playoffs sweep last year. They’re being led by Johnny Gaudreau, who’s seventh in the league in scoring (16-40--55). Gaudreau himself has bounced back from a down season in 2016-17, where his goal production was cut in half. This year, he’s on pace to get around the same 30 goals he had in 2015-16.
After years of struggle, the Flames are finally starting to put all the pieces together — and that includes Mike Smith in net, who’s having statistically the best year of his career, outside of the very surprisingly good 2011-12 Coyotes team that he backstopped. Smith has taken a lot of flack around the internet, but in fairness to him, he’s built a very solid season this year with no sign of slowing down.
The Kings will be without Jonathan Quick tonight, which was possibly always the plan, but definitely the plan after last night’s Vancouver debacle. There hasn’t been an official announcement from the team, but the expectation is that Kuemper will start.
The blue line may also look different, with Derek Forbort missing the third period of last night’s game with an upper body injury. Paul LaDue is the only spare defenseman available, so if Forbort is unable to go, LaDue may make his season debut. The other scratches for the Kings were Andy Andreoff and Jonny Brodzinski; it’s possible that one or both gets in this game, but where and who comes out are up for debate.
Listen, the Kings should be mad after last night’s game. John Stevens was as politely but vehemently disappointed in them as I’ve ever seen.
"Total reluctance to follow a game plan, for whatever reason. They came in ready to check and play hard on pucks. We tried to play a rush game and allowed people to get behind us." https://t.co/zNj6myoNh2— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) January 24, 2018
In theory, getting embarrassed by a bottom-tier team should give the Kings some fire, some willingness to actually work together as a team, something we didn’t see much from anyone outside of the top line last night.
Then again — the Flames just lost to the Sabres, and they’re pretty mad about it, too.
We’re almost at the All Star Break. Let’s just finish this.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Kempe - Toffoli
Gaborik - Amadio - Lewis
Clifford - Shore - Mitchell
Gravel - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
Folin - LaDue
Gaudreau - Monahan - Ferland
Tkachuk - Backlund - Brouwer
Bennett - Jankowski - Hathaway
Hrivik - Stajan - Lazar
Giordano - Hamilton
Brodie - Hamonic
Kulak - Stone
Opposing Preview: Matchsticks and Gasoline