The title of “lowest-scoring team in the NHL” is not one that any team would embrace, but it’s the title that the Kings received following their ugly 3-2 last-minute regulation loss in Anaheim to the lowly Ducks on Tuesday, the sixth consecutive game in which the Kings recorded only two goals or less. It’s also a title that the Kings will be looking to shed immediately when they host the Minnesota Wild tonight.
The Kings have recorded points in five straight games against the Wild, going 3-0-2 in that span and overall are 5-2-2 against Minnesota since the start of the 2009-2010 season, and are coming off a 5-2 romp over them at Staples Center last month. However, both winning and scoring should not be easy against the Wild this time around, who in those low-scoring, tight games that the Kings seem to play in a lot of, have excelled this season, going 11-2-3 in one-goal games. The Wild have arguably been the biggest surprise of the season so far. They’re 18-7-3 on the season, and their 39 points are the most in the NHL. Minnesota has also won five straight games and are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games, and will be looking to avenge an embarrassing 5-2 loss from when they visited Staples Center last month. They haven’t been getting it done with offense, either. The Wild average only 2.39 goals per game, ranking their offense 25th in the NHL, and their power-play ranks just 19th in the NHL at a 15.4% success rate. However, their defense ranks third in the NHL, surrendering just 2.14 goals against per game, and their penalty kill is fairly strong as well, ranking 10th in the league at an 84.6% success rate. Meaning the Kings’ 30th-ranked offense, averaging just 2.26 goals per game, and their 15th-ranked power-play (but struggling recently and without Mike Richards) at a 17.6% success rate will be in for a tough test. However, the Kings’ fourth-ranked defense, surrendering just 2.18 goals against per game, and their eighth-ranked penalty kill, killing off 85.3% of their penalties, should also be able to keep the Wild offense in check, meaning the Kings could be in for another low-scoring affair. Shocking, huh?
The Wild do have some talent up front, however. Leading the way are the likes of Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Kyle Brodziak. Filling out their forward group will be Nick Johnson, Darroll Powe, Casey Wellman, Brad Staubitz, Jeff Taffe, Colton Gillies and Cody Almond. Two of the Wild’s better forwards, Guillaume Latendresse and Devin Setoguchi, are on the injured reserve, and Cal Clutterbuck is also expected to be unable to play.
The Wild are one of the best teams in the NHL at keeping the puck out of their net, but their defense corps isn’t very intimidating, especially after trading Brent Burns in the summer. Nick Schultz, Mike Lundin, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner and Greg Zanon make up their defense, while one of them will be a healthy scratch. Marek Zidlicky and Justin Falk are on the injured reserve.
In goal for the Wild, it’s sort of up in the air right now because of the health of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. Regular starter Niklas Backstrom is listed as day-to-day with a groin injury and his status for tonight’s game is not yet known. Backstrom has had a strong season so far, with a 10-5-2 record and two shutouts to go along with a 2.15 GAA and a .929 Sv%. Josh Harding was lit up by the Kings for four goals on 21 shots at Staples Center last month before he was pulled during the second period, but that game notwithstanding, Harding has also had a strong season. He is 7-2-1 with a shutout to go along with a 2.14 GAA and a .932 Sv%. However, he left Tuesday’s game in San Jose early in the first period with an upper-body injury, and his status for tonight’s game is not yet known. It’s certainly possible that Minnesota will turn to rookie Matt Hackett in goal tonight. Hackett made his NHL debut under less than ideal circumstances on Tuesday when he unexpectedly came into the game just 1:11 into it after Josh Harding was injured, and with his team already trailing 1-0 to the Sharks. However, Hackett stopped all 34 shots he faced as his team rallied for a 2-1 regulation win. It was technically not a shutout because he didn’t play the first 1:11, but an awfully impressive debut nonetheless. The Wild do not have another goalie listed on their roster, so at least one of Backstrom or Harding should be able to at least dress, if not start. Or perhaps they’ll bring Paul Deutsch back for another game (for those who don’t get the reference, click here http://news.yahoo.com/wild-sign-51-old-hockey-goaltender-004310713.html).
The Kings will be regaining the services of Alec Martinez tonight. Martinez has been out for almost a month, missing the Kings’ last 10 games with a shoulder injury. In fact, the last game he played was also a home game against the Wild, the game where he injured his shoulder, but returned to score a power-play goal later on that same major penalty that Warren Peters received for boarding Martinez that resulted in the injury. Martinez may have come back to finish that game, but he hasn’t played since. In order to make room for Martinez, the Kings have retroactively placed Willie Mitchell on injured reserve. Mitchell will be eligible to be activated in time for the Kings’ next game, Saturday at home against the Dallas Stars, so the Kings will have a tough decision to make as to how they’re going to make room for him. Yesterday, Terry Murray said that one of Alec Martinez or Willie Mitchell would play tonight, but not both. Since he didn’t say which, he left it a possibility that both of them could be healthy. However, he didn’t say that both of them would play. That’s pretty telling that they really don’t want to send Slava Voynov down. We’ll see how it shakes out, but as I’ve said before, I just don’t know how they can send Voynov down.
Meanwhile, Justin Williams will be a game-time decision tonight. He took a shot to the hand in Anaheim on Tuesday, but actually returned and scored a goal. Just like Martinez did when he got hurt…
The Kings have once again shaken up the lines for tonight, rather than try and let the players develop chemistry (although if Williams doesn’t play, they’d be forced to anyways). On the bright side, Trevor Lewis is back in the lineup, after spending the last seven games as a heatlthy scratch. He will take Kevin Westgarth’s spot on the fourth line. Brad Richardson may also be back in the lineup, but only if Williams is unable to play. The lines are expected to be Anze Kopitar between Dustin Penner (who get rewarded for his very strong play in the last two games) and Dustin Brown, Andrei Loktionov between Simon Gagne and Justin Williams or Brad Richardson (I like this, Loktionov gets some opportunity to produce), Jarret Stoll between Ethan Moreau and Trent Hunter (Good luck, Jarret), and Colin Fraser between Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis (solid fourth line). Kevin Westgarth will be a healthy scratch, while either Justin Williams will be an unhealthy scratch or Brad Richardson will also be a healthy scratch. I’d like to see Richardson back in the lineup, but at the same time, after he finally ended his goal drought on Tuesday, you’d hate to see Williams get hurt, you’d like for him to stay in the lineup and try and get on a roll.
On defense, it’s expected to be Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson with Slava Voynov, and Alec Martinez with Matt Greene. Davis Drewiske will go back to his normal role as the healthy scratch on defense.
Jonathan Quick is expected to start in goal.
So, the Kings will be in tough to get their offense going against one of the stingiest teams in the NHL, as well as get a win against the team with the best record in the NHL in addition to being one of the hottest (not to mention hungry for revenge after their embarrassing performance at Staples Center last month). Will the Kings be able to fend off the Wild, or will their struggles continue?
NOTE: The Kings will be wearing their third jerseys tonight (Dustin Brown is pictured wearing it above when it was last year’s regular home jersey).