Game Day Preview #66, Chicago Blackhawks @ Los Angeles Kings

For the first time since 1999, the Kings can sweep a season series with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Preview: Chicago Blackhawks (27-29-8) @ Los Angeles Kings (36-24-5)

Game Time: 1:00 PM, FS-W, NHLN

If hockey games were only 40 minutes long — if, say, the first period was just a very long warm-up and none of the goals counted for anything, the Kings would be in much better shape this season.

Instead, the Kings have scored 40 first period goals, 29th in the league, ahead only of St. Louis and the almost-eternally low-scoring Buffalo Sabres. They’ve allowed 62 first period goals, fourth in the league (the Canucks are first, allowing 70 goals in the first 20 minutes). It’s the last 40 where the Kings really shine, though: they’ve allowed 47 second period goals (best in the league) and 46 in the third (second, behind Boston), while scoring 140 in that time. Their third-period goals-for, a ridiculous 82 goals, continue to lead the league, even despite the recent slump.

While it would be much easier on fans if the team didn’t need to pile on goals in the third quite so often, when this team is on and performing well, watching them come back from behind sure is something magical to behold. The Kings’ five goals against Columbus on Thursday were scored in just about any way you can come up with: Tanner Pearson’s hard work around the net finally paying off with a tip-in on the power play, a surprisingly good goal from Nate Thompson, a beauty of a wrist shot from Alex Iafallo (on his second goal of the night), and, oh, this:

Sorry, still not over that one.

So the Kings right now are starting to look a little more like the dominant team who surprised everyone at the start of the season, reeling off wins, surging back from behind, refusing to allow other teams to come back and threaten at the end. Three straight wins and a 6-3-1 record have done a lot to give the Kings more certainty in the playoffs picture (although Anaheim lurks just one point back).

The opponent today is a team experiencing life on the other side — a disastrous season and no playoffs on the horizon — for the first time in years. The Chicago Blackhawks just finished getting embarrassed by the San Jose Sharks. At this point in the season, Chicago is just trying out line combinations and auditioning players to see what works. For perhaps the first time all season, Joel Quenneville is opting to pair Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together on the top line, perhaps hoping to spark some offense for a team that’s seen precious little of it lately.

Alex DeBrincat is a terrifying scorer, one of the few reasons Blackhawks fans have had to continue tuning in this season. His 22 goals are second on the team and tied for second in NHL rookies (Yanni Gourde and Kyle Connor also have 22 on the season). The third line of DeBrincat/Schmaltz/Hinostroza could cause some havoc; Schmaltz is proving to be a good playmaker and set-up man, and Hinostroza has ridiculous speed.  If there’s any line to watch outside of the top one, it’s that one.

The Kings are looking to sweep the season series against Chicago. And while Chicago is motivated to improve on their miserable performance against San Jose, it’s not clear that they actually have the talent, particularly on the blue line, to hang in with the Kings tonight.

What a weird sentence to get to write.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Thompson - Kempe - Rieder
Clifford - Amadio - Mitchell

Forbort - Doughty
Phaneuf - Martinez
Muzzin - Folin


Chicago Blackhawks

Saad - Toews - Kane
Jurco - Anisimov - Duclair
DeBrincat - Schmaltz - Hinostroza
Sharp - Kampf - Highmore

Keith - Murphy
Gustafsson - Seabrook
Dahlstrom - Oesterle


Opposing Preview: Second City Hockey