The Kings will once again look to end their slump, this time they will look to do it back at home against the Nashville Predators, a team that they, and Jonathan Bernier, have had a fair bit of success against lately. Dating back to the 2009-2010 season, the Kings are 4-1-0 in their last five games against the Preds, and Jonathan Bernier has started all five of those games, and shut Nashville out in one of them.
The Predators certainly aren’t an offensive powerhouse. They win games the same way that the Kings do (although the Kings shouldn’t have to win games this way because they have so much more talent), by winning low-scoring, tight-checking affairs. Sounds familiar, huh? So I’m going to go out on a limb and saying that there won’t be a high-scoring game today. The Kings may not solve their offensive woes today against a stingy Nashville squad, but hopefully they can at least get back in the win column.
It won’t be easy against the Predators, however. Nashville always seems to be overlooked when people discuss the top teams in the West, largely because they don’t have to financial resources to spend enough money to help build their team, and because they aren’t in a large market. Also because they had never won a playoff series in their existence until last season, but despite the fact that they don’t look like the best team in the world on paper, they always find a way to hang around and have made the playoffs every year since the lockout with the exception of the 2008-09 season. Last year, they finally won their first playoff series, as despite not having home-ice advantage, the fifth-seeded Predators upset the fourth-seeded Ducks in six games. It was a mismatch on paper, at least on the offensive side of things, as the Predators had nowhere close to the firepower that Anaheim had with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, and Teemu Selanne, but the Preds got it done with their strong defensive play and excellent goaltending from Pekka Rinne, and had some players step up offensively when they needed them to, and that will once again be their recipe for success this season, as head coach Barry Trotz knows the situation he’s in with Nashville and knows that he doesn’t have the most talented team in the world so he has them all buying in and playing as a team and winning games however they can, usually by shutting the other team down offensively. Will Nashville ever be able to become an elite team in the West and a legit contender this way? Maybe not, but they always seem to find a way to hang around, and maybe they’ve got a Cinderella playoff run in them in the near future.
As mentioned earlier, the Kings will have Jonathan Bernier in goal tonight, which makes a lot of sense, considering Bernier’s history of success against the Preds, the team struggling lately, Bernier not playing in six straight games and only getting two of 14 starts this season, the team playing on back-to-back nights in different cities, and Quick having started yesterday. Not to mention Quick had a heavy workload yesterday, facing 38 shots and stopping 34 of them against a lethal San Jose offense. Bernier had a 5-2 loss to the Predators last year, but in his other four starts against Nashville has given up a combined four goals and has a shutout, and last season on November 6th, 2010, was 2:24 away from getting a second shutout against the Predators, in fact, it would have been his second-straight shutout against them, but it was broken up by defenseman Shane O’Brien, who now plays for the Colorado Avalanche. No, Nashville isn’t the highest-scoring team in the world, but that’s still pretty impressive what he’s been able to do against them, with the exception of that 5-2 defeat.
Up front for Nashville, there isn’t a ton. Veteran David Legwand is off to a very nice start to his season with five goals and nine assists in 13 games, while rookie Craig Smith has surprised with four goals and six assists so far. Sergei Kostitsyn has three goals and five assists, but in only 10 games, and is currently listed as day-to-day and an already offensively-starved team in Nashville may be without one of their top offensive weapons, as Kostitsyn is listed as questionable. Mike Fisher has two goals and two assists but has only played in five games this season. Patric Hornqvist is off to a nice start, with a team-leading six goals, and veteran Martin Erat has only played in five games and recorded a goal and two assists. Making up the rest of Nashville’s offense, it’s expected to be Niclas Bergfors, Jordin Tootoo, Blake Geoffrion, Matt Halischuk, Brian McGrattan, Jerred Smithson, and Colin Wilson. Nick Spaling is on the injured reserve.
On the back end lurks their most dangerous offensive weapon, yes, he’s a defenseman, captain, face of the franchise, and Norris contender, in all-around elite blue liner Shea Weber. Weber can beat you in almost every way. He can shut you down, he can shoot the puck as hard as anyone, and he can destroy you with a big hit. To make up a very formidable top pairing with Weber is criminally underrated defenseman Ryan Suter. Making up the rest of the Preds’ defense corps are Francis Bouillon, Jack Hillen, Teemu Laakso, Jonathan Blum. It’s possible that they could have Kevin Klein, but he’s listed as questionable. Roman Josi is on the injured reserve.
In goal, it’s expected to be backup Anders Lindback, in my opinion, one of the best names in hockey. Vezina-nominee and recent recipient of a big fat new contract, Pekka Rinne, will get a break tonight after starting the first 13 games of the season, and Nashville plays again tomorrow night in Anaheim and I guess would rather have Rinne play against the Ducks than the Kings.
As far as the Kings go, other than in goal, just one lineup change. Anze Kopitar stays between Simon Gagne and Justin Williams on the first line, Mike Richards stays between Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown on the second line, and Jarret Stoll will be up the middle on the third line, but on his left will no longer be Ethan Moreau, who really needs to stop taking so many penalties, because he’s hurting more than he’s helping right now. Yes, he’s a physical player, but he has to learn what’s acceptable and what’s not. Kyle Clifford moves up to take his spot, while Scott Parse will stay on the right, while Brad Richardson is between Ethan Moreau and Trevor Lewis on the fourth line. On defense, also no changes, it’s Willie Mitchell with Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi with Jack Johnson, and Alec Martinez with Matt Greene. Trent Hunter, Kevin Westgarth, and Davis Drewiske will once again be the healthy scratches.
The Kings are going to have their work cut out for them against a stingy Nashville team that is 7-4-2 on the year and has won two straight games, as well as being 4-0-1 in their last five. Will the Kings offense take advantage of playing the Predators’ backup, or will their slide continue?
NOTE: For the second time in three home games, the Kings will be wearing their new third-jerseys, which are last year’s home jerseys. They’ll hope for better results than last time when they were shutout 3-0 by the Edmonton Oilers.