Preview: Los Angeles Kings (22-20-4) @ New York Rangers (30-16-1)
How to Watch and What to Watch For
Everyone remember that feeling in December, when it’s like "please just let the Christmas break get here, please, I won’t ask for anything else". And the break arrives and your team gets some time off to refresh, reset, and put some recent mediocre play in the rear window.
Well, we’re about a month past that and -- I can only speak for myself here -- I’ve definitely caught myself thinking "just get to the All-Star break, and then we’ll go from there". It’s been a rough go for the Kings lately. They’ve lost three in a row, including two of the bottom two teams in the East. The games against Tampa Bay and the Islanders should have been slam dunks, but here we are, I guess.
The picture for the Kings is still pretty angst-inducing. Tyler Toffoli is still shut down until at least after the All-Star break, with something that was supposed to be more of a day-to-day thing. Nic Dowd is slightly banged up and may sit this game out. Matt Greene is apparently dealing with a whole litany of lingering ailments that may take him out of the regular rotation. Brayden McNabb still appears to be in Darryl Sutter’s Hall of Out of Favor Defensemen, as he appeared to skate as the extra defenseman at the team’s last full practice. McNabb gives me slightly more confidence than Tom Gilbert, but, well, that’s just me.
Jeff Carter continues to be one of the only bright spots in the Kings’ offensive arsenal. I think at this point we might all be out of words we can write about what he’s meant for the team this season. Kings fans have known that Carter’s been an important, exciting player to watch for years now, even when the rest of the hockey world (including media) have brushed him off. Go look at any tweet citing Carter’s stats this year and you’re bound to find a whole line of responses showing extreme surprise that Carter’s still a useful player. He might not say that his game has a lot of skill in it, but anyone watching closely knows the truth about that.
Of course, one man does not a playoff team make, which is why the Kings are currently three points outside of a playoff spot. There are a lot of other players who need to, I don’t know, channel their inner Jeff Carters or something, and they need to do it fast.
For our opponents in New York, the rumors of Henrik Lundqvist’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. After some dismal play recently -- both by Lundqvist and by the team in front of him -- the unfairly handsome netminder pulled out a scrappy 1-0 overtime win against Detroit. Lundqvist has had a rough month, but I don’t think he’s anywhere near as washed up as some of hockey media wants to make him seem.
The Rangers have had their ups and downs this year, surging ahead in the goals for category while they banked a lot of points early in the season. They’ve cooled off some lately -- and, as always, injuries and curious coaching decisions have taken their toll on the lineup. Kevin Hayes is the latest casualty, out until at least after the All Star break. Marc Staal and Antti Raanta are closer to being back, but they’re still big holes in the lineup. Raanta is especially missed as he’s solidified himself as a solid counterpart to Lundqvist, who now has to play the back-to-back rather than giving the inexperienced but wonderfully named Magnus Hellberg a go.
For all their faults, when their defense is firing on all cylinders, the Rangers are generally a stingy team. This could easily be a 2-1 game, knowing the way these things go.
I’m just hoping for another Alec Martinez goal. For reasons.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
King - Kopitar - Gaborik
Pearson - Carter - Brown
Lewis - Andreoff - Setoguchi
Clifford - Shore - Nolan
Muzzin - Doughty
Forbort - Martinez
McNabb - Gravel
New York Rangers
Kreider - Stepan - Zuccarello
Nash - Zibanejad - Buchnevich
Vesey - Miller - Grabner
Puempel - Lindberg - Pirri
McDonagh - Girardi
Holden - Klein
Skjei - Clendening
Opposing Preview: Blueshirt Banter