Game Day Preview #65, Vancouver Canucks @ Los Angeles Kings

I can’t even make this funny. Just win this game.

Preview: Vancouver Canucks (28-21-13) @ Los Angeles Kings (31-27-6)

How to Watch and What to Watch

Remember when there was a time where the Canucks briefly flirted with a playoff spot? That time’s over now, as the Canucks instead hover in the basement of the league, currently between Dallas and Arizona in the standings. While the Canucks actually made some savvy deals at the deadline, prompting everyone to wonder whether we’d finally crossed over into an alternate universe, most of the deals aren’t going to improve their team right now.

Which -- from a Kings perspective -- is absolutely fine.

Taking two points against the Canucks shouldn’t be something that’s in question.

And yet, the Kings have played two inexplicably close games against the Canucks, their only win coming on a shoot-out that became necessary after the Kings blew a three goal lead. Both games against the Canucks so far -- the other one, a loss in regulation, was nearly a shut-out until Tanner Pearson scored late in the third -- have been pretty synonymous with the Kings’ play in general this season. Blown leads, chasing games, failing to put away lesser teams that shouldn’t cause much trouble but do anyway. Same as it ever was.

In net for the Canucks tonight is Ryan Miller, who’s having a great season in a contract year behind a bad team. He’s perfectly capable of shutting down a team’s offense and bailing out his own team -- witness his 36 save performance against the Kings in that one-goal loss back in December. And the Canucks have certainly needed bailing out more often than not this season. A look at Miller’s latest starts reveal a lot of three and four goal nights for him. In fact, other than a shut-out against the Blue Jackets and one goal from the Flames, a majority of Miller’s starts lately wind up with a lot of pucks behind him.

The Kings will be tinkering some with the bottom six, thanks to an injury to Nick Shore.

I could fill a whole post with thoughts about Nick Shore, but instead I’ll just say that an injury to him destabilizes an already iffy bottom six. Shore’s offensive capabilities in the NHL will probably never match up with what he did in the AHL, but his game’s been looking better all season long. He’s had more games lately where he’s been noticeable in a good way, instead of either drifting or screwing up.

With Shore out, Andy Andreoff draws back in and Adrian Kempe moves over to center the bottom line. Kempe played a combination of wing and center when he was with Ontario, so the position isn’t new to him. The tenacity and defensive-mindedness that Darryl Sutter expects from his centers might be something to watch for from Kempe, however. Sutter’s latest comments on Kempe echoed a lot of the feedback out of Ontario: he praised Kempe’s speed and skating, but also talked a lot about that nebulous “compete factor”, wanting to see Kempe improve up against bigger, stronger players. Seeing Kempe and Andreoff split center duties, particuarlly if Kempe falters, wouldn’t be a surprise tonight.

In a sort-of surprise, Ben Bishop was first off the ice this morning and appears set to make his second start in a Kings uniform. Starting Bishop is an interesting sign that the Kings really might not overwork Jonathan Quick down the stretch. The schedule is packed this month, with three back to backs coming up, so settling Quick and Bishop into a 1A/1B cycle should be something to keep an eye on.

Other things to keep an eye on: Sedins. Both of them. Please.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iginla - Kopitar - Gaborik
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Lewis - Dowd - Brown
Andreoff - Kempe - Clifford

Forbort - Doughty
McNabb - Martinez
Muzzin - LaDue


Vancouver Canucks

D. Sedin - H. Sedin - Granlund
Baertschi - Horvat - Eriksson
Goldobin - Sutter - Megna
Gaunce - Chaput - Cramarossa

Edler - Stecher
Sbisa - Tanev
Hutton - Biega


Opposing Preview: Nucks Misconduct