It was a great start to the Kings’ Western Canadian road trip yesterday, but they’ll have no time to bask in the glow of their victory, as they’re right back at it today as they head to Edmonton to take on the Oilers.
I mentioned it in both my pre-game and post-game stories yesterday, this is an important game for the Kings. If the Kings want a successful road trip, then four of six points is pretty good. Knowing points are going to be hard to come by in Vancouver on Tuesday, the Kings have a chance to already have four points on this trip when they head into Vancouver if they can take care of the lowly Oilers tonight. However, the Kings are playing less than 24 hours after they played in Calgary, and for the third time in four nights. Not to mention the travel involved, as they’ve gone from LA to Calgary to Edmonton. Will the Kings be gassed and suffer an upset tonight?
After having the Oilers come into their building and smack them around earlier this season, the Kings will look to return the favor tonight, and these aren’t the same Oilers who were one of the hottest teams in the league to start the season and came into Staples Center on November 3rd and shut the Kings out 3-0. After two straight seasons of finishing last in the league, the young Oilers looked like they may have turned a corner this year, but no, almost as quickly as they rose, they fell right back to the basement. Now with a 16-23-4 record, the Oilers’ 36 points ranks them 28th in the league. The Oilers are 2-11-1 in their last 14 games, 0-4-1 in their last five games, and are coming off of an ugly 5-0 loss to the cellar-dwelling Ducks on Friday. The Oilers may be 10-7-3 at home on the season, but that loss to Anaheim was at home, and the Oilers are 2-4-1 in their last seven games at Rexall Place. The Oilers have also scored a combined two goals in their last three games. Meanwhile, the Kings are 22-15-8 on the season, and their 52 points rank them seventh in the Western Conference. The Kings are rolling lately, going 8-1-4 in their last 13 games, as well as 9-5-5 on the road on the season, 3-0-2 in their last five road games, and are coming off of an impressive 4-1 victory in Calgary last night. The Kings’ slumbering offense has even woken up, scoring 13 goals in their last three games and at least four goals in each game, and even the power play has gotten involved, with at least a goal in three straight games and five goals over that span. I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s going to be awfully disappointing if the Kings can’t win tonight.
The Kings offense has been rolling lately. In their last three games, they’ve raised their goals per game average on the season from 2.02 to 2.18. However, that’s still the worst goals per game average in the league. Can they keep it going against an Edmonton defense that is tied for 18th in the league with the Winnipeg Jets, giving up an average of 2.86 goals against per game? Meanwhile, the Kings continue to excel at keeping the puck out of their net, as their average of 2.13 goals against per game is the fourth best in the NHL. They’ll look to keep it going against a struggling Oilers offense, an offense that overall on the season ranks 17th in the league with an average of 2.58 goals per game.
On special teams, as I mentioned earlier, even the Kings’ power play has been good lately. Perhaps new team consultant and former Kings great Bernie Nicholls is starting to have an impact with the Kings’ offense and power play that had been struggling so much? They’ll see if they can keep it going against Edmonton’s 14th-ranked penalty kill, killing off 82.6% of their penalties. If there’s been one major strong point for the Oilers this season, it’s been their power play. Ranked third in the league with a 21% success rate, the Kings penalty kill, the third-ranked penalty kill in the league with an 88.5% success rate, could have their hands full in this one, so perhaps the Kings would be wise to avoid penalty trouble. Wait a minute…the Oilers have the 17th-ranked offense, a defense that is tied for 18th, the third-ranked power play and the 14th-ranked penalty kill…but they’re third last in the league in points?
For the Oilers, up front they are missing star rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. With a huge hole in their offense, the Oilers are left with Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Jones and Ales Hemsky to lead the way up front. Filling out the Oilers forward group are Sam Gagner, Eric Belanger, Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan O’Marra, Anton Lander, Darcy Hordichuk, Ben Eager and Josh Green. Two of them will be healthy scratches.
On defense, the Oilers are really banged up, with Ryan Whitney, Cam Barker, Tom Gilbert, Alex Plante and Taylor Fedun all on injured reserve. That leaves the Oilers blue line with Ladislav Smid, Corey Potter, Andy Sutton, Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry and Colten Teubert.
In goal for Edmonton, it’s expected to be Nikolai Khabibulin. On the season, Khabibulin is 11-13-4, with two shutouts, a 2.41 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. However, it could also be Devan Dubnyk, who is 5-10-0 on the season with no shutouts, a 3.18 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.
For the Kings, with the game last night and the flight right after, there was no morning skate today. That, combined with the fact that Darryl Sutter doesn’t say what his lineup is going to be before games, makes it hard to know what the lineup is going to be. However, I’d be surprised if there’s going to be any changes, considering the way they’ve been rolling lately. That would mean sticking with the lines of Anze Kopitar between Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, Mike Richards between Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll, Andrei Loktionov between Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis, and Colin Fraser (who’s making his return to Edmonton) between Kyle Clifford and Trent Hunter. I’d guess that Kevin Westgarth is once again going to be a healthy scratch.
On defense, it will likely remain Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with birthday boy Slava Voynov (happy 22nd!), and Jack Johnson with Matt Greene. Alec Martinez and Davis Drewiske are expected to remain healthy scratches.
In goal, here’s where there may be a change. Jonathan Quick is coming off of a strong performance in Calgary last night, but if he starts tonight in Edmonton, it will be his second game in less than 24 hours and with a flight in between, and his third game in four nights. Throw another flight in there, and that the man would be making his 38th start in the Kings’ 46 games this season, and I’m guessing he could be in for a night off tonight, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we Jonathan Bernier make his ninth start in 46 games this season. Bernier spent the last two games on the bench, but played just six days ago in a 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals. Bernier has been strong lately, giving up eight regulation goals in his last five starts and no more than two goals in each start.
It’s been fun times as a Kings fan lately, as the Kings are finally starting to score some goals. Offense was the only thing holding this team back, and if they can build on this and continue to put together strong offensive efforts, then this team is going to make some noise in the Western Conference. Can the Kings keep it rolling in Edmonton tonight, or will they be upset by the Oilers?