When they host the Dallas Stars on Saturday night, the Kings will be having their first of three “Legends Nights” this season, as they will be honouring former Kings great Bernie Nicholls before the game as well as wearing the vintage purple and gold jerseys (that I am a big fan of, by the way). Nicholls once had a 70-goal season for the Kings in 1988-1989, so perhaps the Kings, the league’s worst offensive team, will be looking to channel some of his offensive skills as well.
The Kings also went 3-0-1 in those jerseys last season, so they’ll be looking for similar results this season. Before the game, it will be all fun and smiles when they honour Bernie Nicholls, but when the puck drops, the Kings may not be in the best of moods, considering their performance lately. Particularly Anze Kopitar, who seems rather fed up with the team’s lack of offense. Kopitar hasn’t been great either lately, which no goals and just three assists in his last seven games, but he looked like a man possessed against the Wild on Thursday. Kopitar simply took the game over, something that was great to see from Kopitar, no doubt one of the most talented scorers around but seems hesitant to put the puck in the back of the net at times, and you can bet he’ll once again be hungry to get things going for himself and for his team on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Drew Doughty has been another culprit for the Kings’ offensive struggles. Doughty celebrated his 22nd birthday on Thursday with a loss, certainly not the way he hoped it would go. Will Doughty finally be able to get it going? One way that he could help himself is by eliminating his ridiculously large wind up on his shot. I’m guessing he could get a lot more success if he could get his shot away faster.
The Kings will also be without Ethan Moreau on Saturday. That’s because, rather than being on the ice today, Moreau was on waivers. The Kings needed to make a roster spot for Willie Mitchell, who will be activated off the injured reserve to play in Saturday’s game, and they decided to get rid of Moreau in order to so, rather than waive someone else or assign Andrei Loktionov or Slava Voynov to Manchester. What is interesting, is now the Kings have eight healthy defensemen on their roster. You’d expect Davis Drewiske will be a healthy scratch, but who else will be? My guess is Alec Martinez, but that has not yet been confirmed. Slava Voynov has just played too well, he’s forced the Kings’ hand. There’s no way they can take him out of the lineup right now.
What will happen when Mike Richards returns? Well, it’s now possible that they could waive Davis Drewiske. If not, and no trades are made, then it’s likely that either Andrei Loktionov will be sent down or Trent Hunter will be waived. This now means there are only 13 forwards on the roster right now (and unless Drewiske gets waived, it will likely stay that way when Richards returns). That opens the door for Trevor Lewis and Brad Richardson to get back into the lineup on a regular basis, although Lewis will be the healthy scratch on Saturday.
As for Moreau being waived, I can’t say I’m shocked or saddened. I like this because I think Lewis and Richardson certainly bring more than Moreau does, as well as some needed speed. Lombardi takes Moreau out of the hands of Terry Murray, which is good. Murray didn’t seem willing to scratch Moreau no matter how poorly he played, so Lombardi had to take it into his own hands to see that Moreau didn’t play. I think this team will be better without Moreau, because now better players take his place. Brad Richardson admits he was frustrated at being scratched because he thought he was playing well but just not getting the bounces, and I agree with him and don’t blame him. Especially because he was being scratched for Moreau.
In the Stars, the Kings face a team that they usually dominate, going 11-2-2 in their last 15 games against Dallas, but collapsed late and lost in overtime in their last meeting, ironically, largely thanks to a dumb, late penalty by Moreau. Dallas got off to a hot start, just like last season, but have come back down to Earth, this time even quicker than it took them last year. Not surprising, because on paper they appear even worse than last year, as Brad Richards is not an easy player to replace. The Stars have lost two straight games and are 4-8-1 in their last 13 games, but their hot start leaves them with a still pretty respectable 15-11-1 record.
The Stars offense ranks 19th in the NHL at a 2.56 goals per game average, and will have to contend with the Kings’ fifth-ranked defense, surrendering 2.25 goals against per game. Their defense ranks 16th in the NHL, surrendering 2.82 goals against per game, but may not have that much trouble against the Kings’ 30th-ranked offense, averaging 2.25 goals per game. On special teams, the Stars’ 19th-ranked power-play, converting at a 15.5% success rate, will have to deal with the Kings’ seventh-ranked penalty kill, killing off 85.8% of their penalties. The Kings’ struggling and Mike Richards-less power-play has plummeted to 16th in the NHL, now converting on only 17.3% of their power-plays, and will have to deal with the Stars’ 14th-ranked penalty kill, killing off 82.9% of their penalties.
Up front for the Stars, they are led by the likes of Brenden Morrow, Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder, Steve Ott, and the surprising Eric Nystrom, who has 10 goals (tied for the most on the Stars) in 22 games since joining the Stars. Filling out their forward group will be Radek Dvorak, Vernon Fiddler, Tomas Vincour, Tom Wandell, Toby Petersen and Jake Dowell. One of them will be a healthy scratch. Adam Burish is on the injured reserve.
On defense, Alex Goligoski and Sheldon Souray lead the way, and behind them are Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Nicklas Grossman, Adam Pardy and Philip Larsen, One of them will be a healthy scratch, while Mark Fistric is suspended.
The injury bug has came back to bite of its favourite victims, Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who finds himself on the injured reserve. Lehtonen has been excellent this season, with a 13-4-1 record to go along with a 2.34 GAA and a .926 Sv%, so the struggling Kings offense will be pleased that they don’t have to deal with him. It will likely be Andrew Raycroft in goal for the Stars, who is 2-7-0 on the season with a 3.53 GAA and an .897 Sv%, although he held the Kings to one goal back in October at Staples Center. It could also be Richard Bachman, however, who was called up when Lehtonen was injured. Bachman has played in only one period this season, stopping all 11 shots that he faced.
For the Kings, their lines look a little bit different, not featuring Ethan Moreau for the first time this season. The top two lines of Anze Kopitar between Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown, and Andrei Loktionov between Simon Gagne and Justin Williams will remain intact. The third line is now expected to be Jarret Stoll between Brad Richardson and Trent Hunter, and the fourth line is expected to be Colin Fraser between Kyle Clifford and Kevin Westgarth. Trevor Lewis will be the healthy scratch.
On defense, here’s where it gets interesting… I’m going to guess that Alec Martinez and Davis Drewiske are going to be the healthy scratches, and that the pairings will be Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Slava Voynov, and Jack Johnson with Matt Greene. I like that there’s a lot of competition on defense now so you’ll need to play well to stay in the lineup, but on the other hand, Murray doesn’t scratch veterans, and he won’t scratch Johnson or Doughty. It will likely be Voynov in there until he starts to struggle (if he does), and then you’ll see Alec Martinez get in there. If Drewiske was playing that little before, imagine how little he’ll play now…
In goal, it will be Jonathan Bernier. Bernier just started a week ago against the Canadiens, and other than the first goal, looked pretty strong. After only spending the last two games on the bench, Bernier will get another chance as Jonathan Quick, who was been shaky lately, will take a break. It will be Bernier’s sixth start in 29 games this season, but he seems to be getting more starts lately, which is good. If Bernier plays a strong game and helps the Kings win tonight, will Murray actually ride the hot hand this time around and start him again until he struggles or loses? We shall see.
This is already the fourth of six meetings between these two Pacific Division rivals this year, and the Stars may have won the last one, but the Kings are still 2-0-1 against Dallas on the year, and 11-2-2 since the start of the 2009-2010 season. Can they continue their success against the Stars, or will Dallas extend the Kings’ losing streak to four games?