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Preview: Kings look to fight off advancing Blue Jackets

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Despite Saturday’s loss to Sharks, recent run could land Columbus in playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings v Columbus Blue Jackets
Pierre-Luc Dubois #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the Los Angeles Kings on December 19, 2019
Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

How to Watch

Game Time: 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time

TV: Fox Sports West

Radio: iHeart Radio / LA Kings Audio Network

The Opposition: The Cannon

What to Watch

  • The Kings opened the second half of the season Saturday night with a lackluster 4-1 loss to Nashville. The team is now 2-4-1 over their last seven contests. Tonight marks the third game of a four-game home stand for the Kings, which concludes Wednesday night against Dallas. The team then embarks on a five-game road trip beginning Thursday in Las Vegas, before traveling to the Southeast to take on Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida. The road trip ends January 18th in Philadelphia against the Flyers, whom the Kings thoroughly dominated New Years Eve, scoring a season-high four first period goals on their way to a 5-3 victory.
  • Upon returning home the Kings will enjoy a much-needed bye week, which through a quirk in the schedule, will itself will be extended a few days by the All-Star break. After Wednesday’s game versus Dallas, the team will not return to Staples Center until January 29th, when they will take on Tampa Bay. The visiting Blue Jackets saw their 12-game point streak (8-0-4) end with a 3-2 loss Saturday against the Sharks. Tonight opens a four game West Coast trip for Columbus, who will travel to Anaheim, San Jose, and Vegas before returning home to Ohio’s capital city.
  • Don’t expect offensive fireworks tonight. It’s safe to say that this season’s Art Ross winner will not be taking the ice. As usual, Kings captain Anze Kopitar leads the team with 15 goals, 22 assists, and 37 points. However that places him only 36th in the league, far behind Edmonton teammates Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, who enter tonight tied for the league lead with 65 points. The Blue Jackets offensive game is even worse. Pierre-Luc Dubois (great hockey name) and Gustav Nyquist are tied for the team lead with 28 points, placing them among the 11 skaters tied for 100th place in the NHL scoring race. However, when the Kings do score, here’s hoping the score sheet reads Alex Iafallo, as he is riding a six-game point streak during which he has tallied three goals and four assists.
Nashville Predators v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NHLI via Getty Images
  • Obvious to anyone who watched Saturday’s loss to Nashville, was the disappointing effort put out by the Kings in light of the dominating performance the team exhibited New Years Eve against the Flyers and the three days off between games. After the game, Todd McLellan told Zach Dooley (filling in for Kings Insider Jon Rosen) that the loss was not only “humbling”, but that he was also ”[q]uite disappointed in the group...Haven’t said that very often with our team, but I just thought one team was so much more intense and hard and committed to doing it over and over again, and another team was gonna try and win it the easy way.”
  • A major focus of McLellan’s frustration was directed at the team’s poor performance on face offs. The Kings won only 46.5% of face offs against the Predators, which is far below the 50.2% rate the team was winning face offs coming into the game, placing them 15th (i.e. the top half) in the 31-team NHL. Looking from an opposite perspective, the Predators won 53.5% of Saturday’s face offs against the Kings despite coming into the game ranked 23rd in the NHL with a success rate of only 48.7%.
  • However, as they say on the ads during infomercials, wait there’s more! Nashville scored three goals Saturday night directly after winning face offs in their offensive (the Kings defensive) zone. The Preds even scored a fourth goal as a direct result of winning a face-off in the neutral zone just outside the offensive blue line. This caused me to dig deeper into the world of faceoffs where I discovered (unintended Columbus reference) that the Kings won only nine of 25 face offs taken in their defensive end Saturday night, meaning they lost that battle 64%-36%. Going into the game the Kings had won 47.8% of their defensive zone face offs, which placed them 19th in the NHL. Tonight’s opponent Columbus ranks 27th in offensive zone face-offs, winning at a rate of 48.2%. Hopefully, this is something Coach McLellan and the boys have worked on in practice the last two days, as Wednesday’s opponent Dallas comes into town leading the league in offensive zone face off percentage with a 56.2% success rate.
  • Finally, the Blue Jackets feature one of my favorite NHL players, 6’4” 25-year old defenseman Seth Jones, who was drafted fourth overall by Nashville in the 2013 entry draft. Jones is not only fourth in team scoring at 24 points, he also leads the Blue Jackets on time on ice (TOI) averaging 25:24 minutes per game, two minutes more ice time than Zach Werenski, who ranks second on the Columbus TOI chart (for comparison’s sake Drew Doughty averages 25:58 of ice time per game for the Kings, about one shift more than Jones.) Jones’ father is Popeye Jones, who played for six NBA teams during his 11-year NBA career. When the Tennessee-raised Popeye played for the Denver Nuggets in the late 1990’s he befriended Avalanche legend Joe Sakic, with whom he would often cross paths at the Pepsi Center, Popeye told the Undefeated, “I said that my kids are interested in playing hockey and I have no clue what to do,” Popeye Jones said. “He looked and saw how tall I was. Joe wasn’t a big guy. He said, ‘By the looks of you, they are going to be very tall. Make sure they know how to skate.’ I told my boys, ‘Joe Sakic said you better know how to skate. You have to be a great skater...From that point on, they all focused on skating by taking lessons, focusing on the details, learning their edges and becoming great skaters. If you watch Seth today, you see that. At his size, he’s a very great skater.” A love of our favorite game was permanently imprinted on the then six-year old when Seth attended Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals with his father and older brothers in which the Avs beat New Jersey 3-1, resulting in one of this century's greatest hockey moments, Joe Sakic handing the chalice to Ray Borque.
NHL Covers - Colorado Avalanche’s Ray Bourque - Stanley Cup Champions - June 18, 2001 Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Here’s hoping everyone had a safe and enjoyable holiday season, and as always GO KINGS GO!

Line-Ups

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo — Kopitar — Toffoli
Prokhorkin — Carter — Brown
Kempe — Lizotte — Wagner
Clifford — Amadio — Lewis

Walker — Doughty
Martinez — Hutton
Forbort — Roy

Quick

Columbus Blue Jackets

Nyquist — Dubois — Bemstrom
Gerbe — Jenner — Foligno
Milano — Wennberg — Stenlund
Lilja — Nash — Robinson

Werenski — Jones
Gavrikov — Savard
Harrington — Nutivaara

Merzlikins