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Preview: Los Angeles Kings continue to battle through growing pains against Minnesota

Los Angeles aim to establish a rhythm and chemistry as the season chugs along.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

How to Watch

Game Time: 5:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time

TV: Fox Sports West

Radio: iHeart Radio

The Opposition: Hockey Wilderness

What to Watch

The Los Angeles Kings trek to the State of Hockey to face the Minnesota Wild in the third game of a four-game road trip on Saturday.

While Kings fans are familiar with the feeling of living on the edge with the team’s tendency to be a willing dance partner in one-goal games in years past, drastic personnel changes have resulted in games with much less fight as the LA Kings reside at the bottom of the Pacific Division with a 4-6-0 record.

Gone are the days where 27 NHL teams braced themselves for the grinding games that were awaiting them on California road trips.

The physical and often slower paced game that served as the cloak of Los Angeles for many years is gone as we are getting a glimpse of what the Kings’ future would look like with a young forward core of Blake Lizotte, Austin Wagner, Adrian Kempe and Michael Amadio.

As cliche as it sounds, with youth comes inexperience and it has showed. Goal scoring per game averages (2.90 goals per game) have been plummeting with special teams issues being one of the central issues so far. After boasting the league’s best penalty killing unit in 2017-18, the Kings have the third worst percentage this year (70.3%) while residing in the top half of issued penalties.

After entrusting Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown with shorthanded minutes, head coach Todd McLellan turned to Lizotte and Jeff Carter with Drew Doughty and Ben Hutton anchoring the back end in Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Although there is no denying that Minnesota is an ideal breeding ground for NHL talent (and flow) with 34 active players that come from the North Star State, the Minnesota Wild have not provided a modicum of pride for the 5.6 million people that it represents.

Along with having to see Zach Parise and Ryan Suter remain with the team until they both reach the age of 40 when their terms end in 2025-26, the one year reign of former general manager Paul Fenton will forever live in infamy.

Fenton wasn’t exactly on the same page as his players, which is the opposite of being a good GM by being their ally. The Wild possesses the league’s worst goal differential at -15 and some may point at the decision of letting go of Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter as part of the reasons why when you look at the returns that Fenton received.

Victor Rask, acquired from Carolina, produced five points in 27 appearances since his arrival last season. Kevin Fiala, who was a highly regarded young gun in Nashville, played in seven games this season while averaging 14 minutes of ice time before being put on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. While it may be an unfair ask for them to quickly learn the team’s system of operations, it is difficult to see the team’s struggles reach astronomical heights.

The lackluster 3-7-0 start prompted Mikko Koivu to spearhead a players only meeting after their shutout loss to the Nashville Predators. This display of leadership and camaraderie that has been cultivating since his pro career started 15 years ago with the same organization is surely worthy of a jersey retirement once Koivu calls it a career.

Until then, Koivu is in the last year of his two-year, $11 million contract still playing on the top line at the age of 36.

Lineups

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo-Kopitar-Brown
Carter-Lizotte-Toffoli
Kovalchuk-Kempe-Lewis
Clifford-Amadio-Wagner

Hutton-Doughty
Martinez-Walker
MacDermid-Roy

Quick

Minnesota Wild

Zucker-Staal-Zuccarello
Parise-Eriksson Ek-Kunin
Foligno-Koivu-Hartman
Donato-Rask-Mayhew

Suter-Spurgeon
Brodin-Dumba
Soucy-Hunt

Stalock