First of all, to all of you who celebrate it, I hope you and your loved ones had a wonderful Christmas.
I also hope Jonathan Quick had a wonderful Christmas, because he certainly deserved to have one. I hope he had one, even though he didn’t get what he wanted. As I mentioned in my last post, it became pretty apparent that all Jonathan Quick wanted for Christmas was to leave San Jose with two points on Thursday, but his team let him down and the Kings were only able to leave San Jose with a single point. Now, the Kings will try and make it up to him by getting him two points for Boxing Day instead when the Kings host the Phoenix Coyotes tonight, and perhaps even finally give him some offensive support and score more than two regulation/overtime goals for the first time in 14 games, for the first time in over a month, and for the first time since a 3-2 regulation win in St. Louis on November 22nd.
In fact, Jonathan Bernier was in goal for that game, so they’ll be looking to score more than two regulation/overtime goals for Quick for the first time since a 5-3 win in Anaheim on November 17th. Quick has been outstanding for the Kings this year, however, the Kings have not been outstanding. He probably feels as though he has to be perfect, considering he plays for the worst offensive team in the NHL and if he makes any mistakes, his team may very well not be able to make up for them on offense. The Kings will need to finally start scoring some goals if they are to begin their journey up the Western Conference standings, as well as prove to their new coach and to their general manager that this roster is capable of getting it done, because if they can’t show them that, then this roster may very well not be staying the way it is for much longer.
The Kings will hope that this is finally the night that things get going for them, and they’ll have to do it against the Phoenix Coyotes. This is the third of six meetings between these Pacific Division rivals this season, with the Kings going 1-0-1 with an overtime loss in the first two. Both of the previous games were played in Phoenix, so this is the first of three meetings between these clubs at Staples Center this season. The Kings beat the Coyotes 2-0 on October 20th, and then lost 3-2 in overtime on October 29th. Shockingly, the Kings did not score three goals in either of those games.
Los Angeles and Phoenix sit in similar spots in the standings. Through 35 games for each team, the Coyotes hold an 18-14-3 record, good for 39 points and ninth in the Western Conference, while the Kings are 16-14-5, and their 37 points sit them 11th in the Western Conference. The Coyotes have gotten where they are with a good mix of offense and defense, while the Kings, of course, possess a brutal offense but a strong defense. Although they may be in similar spots in the standings, things seem a lot brighter in Phoenix (at least on the ice) than they do in Los Angeles.
Because of the Coyotes’ financial situation, they had several free agents — most notably Ilya Bryzgalov — leave in the summer, and weren’t able to acquire some big talents to replace them. Already seen as a team that overachieved just by making the playoffs the last two years, many thought Phoenix would slink to the basement of the Western Conference this year, but once again, Dave Tippett has done a tremendous job with what he has to work with in Phoenix, and the Coyotes are hanging around in the Western Conference playoff picture. Meanwhile, the Kings are also hanging around in the Western Conference playoff picture, but they’ve had a disappointing season because of much higher expectations for this season. The Kings have way more talent than the Coyotes, but are underachieving mightily, which led to Terry Murray’s dismissal and has led to some serious fan frustration.
The Coyotes offense ranks 18th in the NHL, averaging 2.52 goals per game, and will have to deal with a strong Kings defense, ranked sixth in the league and allowing an average of just 2.37 goals against per game. Meanwhile, the Kings offense is, of course, last in the league, averaging just 2.09 goals per game, and will have to deal with a stingy Phoenix defense that is ranked 10th in the NHL, allowing the same 2.57 goals against per game that they average on offense.
On special teams, the Phoenix power-play has been miserable, ranked 27th in the league (even lower than the Kings!) and converting on just 13.5% of their opportunities. The Coyotes power-play will be matched up with a strong Kings penalty kill that is ranked fifth in the league, killing off 87.3% of their penalties, and has been excellent lately. Opponents are just 2-for-36 on the power-play against the Kings in the last nine games. However, it would still be nice to see the Kings start staying out of the penalty box, something they’ve been unable to do lately. Unfortunately, the Kings power-play has been just about as bad as the penalty kill has been good lately, just 2-for-29 in the last nine games, and overall is ranked just 23rd in the league, converting on 15.4% of their opportunities, which is a mighty fall from the strong power-play that the Kings had earlier in the season. Now with Mike Richards back, the Kings hope to start seeing a turnaround with the man-advantage. The Kings power-play will have to deal with a Coyotes penalty kill that is ranked 13th in the league, killing off 82.9% of their penalties. The ‘Yotes have enjoyed success away from home this year, posting an 11-6-1 record outside of Arizona, so they will provide a stiff test for the Kings, who are only a mediocre 9-9-1 at Staples Center this season.
Leading the way for the Coyotes up front are the likes of captain and Kings-killer Shane Doan, as well as Radim Vrbata (who is quietly having an excellent season, with a team-high 16 goals to go along with 13 assists and a plus-9 rating in 35 games), Ray Whitney, Martin Hanzal, Lauri Korpikoski and Daymond Langkow. Also up front for the Coyotes are Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Chipchura, Boyd Gordon, Raffi Torres, Paul Bissonnette, Cal O’Reilly, Taylor Pyatt, and former King Patrick O’Sullivan. Two of them will be healthy scratches.
On defense, they’re led by Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Filling out their blue line will be Michal Rozsival, Derek Morris, Rostislav Klesla, David Schlemko, and David Rundblad, who was recently acquired from the Ottawa Senators in the trade that sent Kyle Turris to Ottawa. One of them will be a scratch, while Adrian Aucoin is on the injured reserve.
In goal, starter Mike Smith’s had a strong season, posting a 15-10-3 record with a pair of shutouts to go along with a 2.52 GAA and a .920 Sv%, but he was placed on injured reserve today. Curtis McElhinney was recalled from the AHL to take his spot, however, it’s expected to be regular backup and former King, Jason LaBarbera, in goal tonight, who has also had a decent season, posting a 3-4-0 record without a shutout to go along with a 2.55 GAA and a .912 Sv%. McElhinney has not played in the NHL this season, so his stats are unavailable.
For the Kings, they haven’t practiced since their last game and Darryl Sutter doesn’t say what his lineup changes are going to be, so it’s hard to know what the lineup is going to be. What we can gather from today’s morning skate, however, is that Andrei Loktionov, Davis Drewiske and Alec Martinez are going to be healthy scratches, and that Jonathan Quick is going to start in goal, since Loktionov, Drewiske, Martinez, and Jonathan Bernier stayed on the ice for extra work after everyone else left.
If Darryl Sutter is going to leave the lines from his first two games together to let them try to develop some chemistry, even though it’s obviously not working so far, the lines will be Anze Kopitar between Brad Richardson and Dustin Brown, Mike Richards between Simon Gagne and Trevor Lewis, Jarret Stoll between Dustin Penner and Justin Williams, and Colin Fraser between Kyle Clifford and either Kevin Westgarth or Trent Hunter, while one of Westgarth or Hunter will likely be a healthy scratch, joining Andrei Loktionov as a scratched forward.
On defense, it would mean sticking with Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Slava Voynov, and Jack Johnson with Matt Greene, and, of course, Alec Martinez and Davis Drewiske as healthy scratches.
As mentioned earlier, it will likely be Jonathan Quick in goal, making his seventh straight start and 30th start in 36 games this season.
I mentioned a bunch of underachieving Kings in the last post, but really, it’s worth mentioning again, as it’s been astonishing to see so much talent all struggling miserably right now. Players go through slumps, but the type of slumps and how long they’ve been for some (all season so far in some cases) and how they’re all happening at once is amazing. Anze Kopitar has not scored in his last 14 games and has two goals in his last 21 games. Simon Gagne hasn’t scored in his last 16 games and has one goal in his last 18 games. Justin Williams has two goals in his last 26 games. Drew Doughty has two goals and hasn’t scored since November 10th. Dustin Penner has two goals and hasn’t scored in his last seven games. Jarret Stoll has three goals. Kyle Clifford has one goal and hasn’t scored since October 20th. The list of struggling players goes on. This team is seriously due for an offensive explosion and a major hot streak. Will it finally happen, or will the Coyotes continue the Kings’ frustration?