Kings/Blue Jackets: Nothing's ever easy [Game #57 Preview]
Kings Roster Notes: Terry Murray is keeping the lines the same, which means Richardson, Drewiske, and Harrold are the healthy scratches. (I'm betting Westgarth is there for Boll.) No definite word on when Sturm will return.
Columbus Roster Notes: Mathieu Garon will take over for Steve Mason in goal tonight. Injured: Ethan Moreau, Derek Dorsett, Rostislav Klesla.
The Blue Jackets are 7-3-0 in their last ten games; the Kings are 7-1-2, with points in 9 straight. Columbus is a mere 4 points behind them in the standings. The season series is split 1-1; curiously enough, both games occurred during LA's cold streaks. The Blue Jackets still struggle with special teams (13.6% PP, 80.2% PK), but the Kings should remember that both of their prior meetings were relatively high scoring affairs (5-3 CBJ, 6-4 LAK). Star LW Rick Nash, always dangerous against LA, has already scored his 26th goal of the season.
Today's object lesson comes from The Washington Post, which lamented the Caps' loss to the lowly Kings:
...[A] skill-laden roster captained by Alex Ovechkin and boasting names such as Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin shouldn't have the 19th-ranked offense or 20th-best power play. Nor should it trail in the Southeast Division by five points or sit tied with injury-plagued Montreal for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. And it definitely shouldn't get humbled by a middle-of-the-pack, Western Conference opponent playing almost 3,000 miles - and three times zones - from home.
There are many reactions I had to this -- one was to roll my eyes at the idea that any middle-of-the-pack Western team is defined by their current rank, because all of them are a few points away from 4th; another was to gloat over the fact that we've beaten them 5 times in a row, and that they have a 3-7-1 record now against the West (maybe they should wake up to that reality); but most of all, I felt disgust at the idea of taking a team for granted, because "This should be an easy win" is one of the worst attitudes in life and sport.
Will a team roll over just because they're lower than you in the standings? No. Do the injuries your opponents have suffered elevate your own play? No. Does the fact that the other side is worn out from a rough schedule guarantee a win? No again. How many times over the years have you seen the Kings, or any other team in any sport you can think of, take a game too lightly and get burned? Rankings be damned -- even the likes of Vancouver and Philly ease up on the gas pedal on occasion. Cellar-dwelling teams have inflicted blowouts. It's why they play the games.
Now, it's easy when I'm sitting on my couch to say things like "Give 100% every night!" -- and we should demand no less -- but there's a natural ebb and flow of physical and emotional energy for every human being and every team. Dave Tippett noted that games in conference already had a playoff-like intensity back in December -- that's a long time to sustain that kind of pressure. Teams have gone on 9 and 10 game point streaks lately and still aren't out of the woods. The schedule is long and exhausting, especially for Western teams with hectic travel schedules, but nothing comes easy for anybody. Injuries mount; so does stress and fatigue. Calm focus is hard to maintain. The best teams just manage it better.
Good fortune can help; so can talented teammates. But in the end, this always holds true: what's going on with other teams is no substitution for a lack of effort.
This is the closest stretch run I can remember. Let's see if they come out of it a better club.