Well, I guess before I start, I should mention that there has been no further news on the coaching front in LA, and it still appears that Darryl Sutter could be named the next head coach of the Kings on Tuesday, upon the conclusion of this road trip. Sorry, nothing new to report on Sutter Watch 2011.
However, here is some somewhat Sutter-related news, apparently. Ethan Moreau, who many years ago played under Sutter in Chicago, has decided to accept his assignment to Manchester. Apparently, Moreau was set to refuse the assisgnment, but upon hearing that Sutter could be the next head coach of the Kings, he’s hoping that his old coach is going to want him recalled from the minors at some point. Here’s hoping that he doesn’t. If Sutter does want to try and bring Moreau up, hopefully Lombardi can convince him that, based on watching him play here, Moreau shouldn’t be called up and that he would not help the team and that he cleared waivers for a reason. If Sutter is still insistent on bringing Moreau up, hopefully Lombardi just flat out says no. Personally, 28 games of Ethan Moreau was more than enough for me.
Anyways, onto the game. Tonight, the Kings look to win consecutive games for the first time since they beat the Sharks 2-0 on November 28th and then beat the Panthers 2-1 in regulation on December 1st, as well as end their 10-game stretch without scoring more than two goals in a game (a franchise record), when their road trip takes them to Detroit to take on the Red Wings.
For a team in a situation like the Kings are in where they just ended a five-game losing streak by barely defeating arguably the worst team in the league and are having serious troubles offensively, maybe Detroit’s not the team the Kings want to face right now. Well, there’s never really a good time to face the Wings, but especially in the situation that the Kings find themselves in right now, you’d hate to see them fall right back into the loss column after finally ending their losing streak, so it would probably be better for the Kings if they could face a few more bottom-feeders right now to get their confidence up.
But, the Kings got themselves into this mess, so now they’ll have to earn their way out of it, and if they want to continue to do that by getting a win in Detroit tonight, they’ll definitely need to earn it against a team like the Red Wings. The Kings will be looking to avenge an ugly 4-1 beating that the Red Wings put on them at Staples Center last month, and of course, they’ll have to do it without the only man who scored for them in that game, Mike Richards.
It’s been business as usual for the Red Wings as of late, one of the NHL’s elite and have been for many, many years, who just continue to roll along and are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games despite losing their last game, 4-3 in regulation in Nashville on Thursday. Detroit has a great offense and defense, shown in their plus-29 goal-differential, the best goals difference in the Western Conference. The Wings average 3.17 goals per game, ranking their offense fifth in the NHL. The fifth-ranked offense will match up with the Kings’ fifth-ranked defense, surrendering an average of just 2.23 goals against per game. The Kings defense is tied for fifth, that is. Tied with the Red Wings, who will provide a stiff test for the Kings’ 30th-ranked offense, averaging just 2.13 goals per game.
On special teams, the Red Wings power-play has been on fire as of late, scoring on both of their opportunities in Nashville on Thursday and going 1-for-2 against the Penguins in their previous game on Tuesday. After a slow start, Detroit’s power-play is now up to fifth in the NHL, converting on 21.3% of their opportunities. With that much skill and experience, it’s no surprise to see the Detroit power-play clicking like it is right now. The Kings penalty kill has been awesome as of late and overall is ranked sixth in the NHL, killing off 86.5% of their opportunities, but would be wise to stay out of the penalty box as much as they can tonight, which would mean reversing their recent trend of taking penalties early and often in games. The Red Wings power-play is heading in the exact opposite direction of the slumping Kings power-play that has fallen all the way to 22nd in the NHL, now converting on just 15.8% of their opportunities. Fortunately for the Kings, the Red Wings penalty kill isn’t the greatest, ranked just 23rd in the NHL, killing off 80.5% of their opportunities. Unfortunately for the Kings, it doesn’t seem to matter how bad the other team’s penalty kill is, they still can’t score on the power-play right now. What’s really bad news for the Kings is that Detroit’s overall defense is ranked so high despite their poor penalty kill, meaning they give up very little at even-strength, and the Kings are already not only the lowest-scoring team in the NHL but the lowest-scoring team at even-strength in the NHL.
If the Kings have anything going for them, it’s their recent success at Joe Louis Arena. Last year, the Kings won both games that they played at Joe Louis Arena, by scores of 5-0 (on December 13th, 2010) and 2-1 (on March 9th, 2011). Particularly Jonathan Quick has been fantastic in Detroit, who not only gave up just one goal in two games in Detroit but had a 51-save shutout in that 5-0 victory, and faced 26 shots in the second period alone, keeping all of them out. Many times, goalies don’t even have to deal with 26 shots in a game. Of course, the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings are different than the 2010-2011 Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings, so last year’s success in Detroit may not mean much, and right now, the Wings are playing much better than the Kings, which is probably more important. Let’s just hope that the Kings aren’t due for a loss in Detroit. What they are due for, is a big winning streak and an offensive explosion.
There are many reasons why Detroit is so good, and among them is that they are led offensively by the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom. Also up front for the Wings are Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Fabian Brunnstrom, Cory Emmerton and Drew Miller. One of them will be a healthy scratch, while Jan Mursak, Chris Conner and Patrick Eaves are on the injured reserve.
On defense, yeah, it also helps when you’re led by Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall. Brad Stuart, Ian White, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl and Mike Commodore fill out the defense corps in Detroit, while one of them will be a healthy scratch.
In goal, Jimmy Howard has been fantastic this season, posting an 18-7-1 record with three shutouts to go along with a 1.90 GAA and a .929 Sv%. Backup Ty Conklin is 1-3-0 on the season, with his only win coming via shutout, to go along with less impressive numbers of a 3.27 GAA and an .889 Sv%. It’ll probably be Howard in goal, but I’m sure the Kings are hoping it’ll be Conklin. Of course, the Kings tend to get get shut down even if it’s the backup goalie anyways.
For the Kings, up front it will be Anze Kopitar between Simon Gagne and Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll between Dustin Penner and Justin Williams, Trevor Lewis between Brad Richardson and Trent Hunter, and Colin Fraser between Kyle Clifford and Kevin Westgarth. The healthy scratch will be Andrei Loktionov, as Trent Hunter takes his spot in the lineup, and Lewis moves over to take Loktionov’s spot at centre on the third line while Hunter takes the spot of Lewis on the right. Loktionov hasn’t been particularly impressive in his 14-game stint since being called up, as he has no goals and just two assists, and has not recorded a point in his last 10 games. He’s also a minus-4 on the season. We’ll see how long it takes him to get back in the lineup.
On defense, it remains Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez with Jack Johnson, and Davis Drewiske with Matt Greene. Slava Voynov will be the healthy scratch for the second consecutive game, which I’m not exactly thrilled with, and I think the Kings could use both he and Loktionov’s skill against a team like the Red Wings more than they could use guys like Trent Hunter and Davis Drewiske. That’s just my opinion. Or further more, why not take Kevin Westgarth out of the lineup? It seems pretty pointless to have an enforcer against a team like Detroit who features zero enforcers or goons. If you don’t want to take Drewiske out because he had a good game against Columbus and scored, fine, then put Voynov in over Martinez. Hopefully he gets back in the lineup soon. At least the two good Russian buddies can keep each other company in the press box tonight.
In goal, it will be Jonathan Quick, looking for another strong game after a good outing in Columbus, as well as the type of outing he usually has in Detroit.
If the Kings can find a way to score a few goals and get a win tonight on the road against a team like Detroit, it would be a big statement that they’re pulling out of this slump. Will they be able to, or will they fall right back into the loss column?
NOTE: Just a quick injury update, Willie Mitchell expects to play on Monday in Toronto and Mike Richards practiced today in a red no-contact jersey, but says he’s taking things slow and playing it safe and there is still no definitive date or timetable for his return, but there is hope that it could be soon. Also, this is sort of a weird, random fact, but the Kings have lost on four straight Saturdays and are 3-5-2 on Saturdays this season. Hopefully they can turn that around.