There may be a bit of a good feeling around the Kings right now. After all, they just had Christmas, they’re 2-0-1 under their new coach, they finally broke the three-goal barrier, and now they’re on a road trip with the majority of their fathers along to accompany the team.
However, the team that they will face tonight is one that they usually do not have fun against. The Kings are 0-7-0 against the Blackhawks in their last seven meetings, including a 2-1 loss at Staples Center back on November 26th. The last time they beat the Blackhawks was back on November 28th, 2009, a 2-1 shootout victory, and the last time they won in Chicago was all the way back on December 30th, 2007, a 3-2 overtime win. The Kings are 0-6-0 in their last six trips to the United Center, but they’ll look to finally end their misery against the ‘Hawks tonight.
The Blackhawks may have had the Kings’ number in recent years, but it’s not like the Kings are getting beat up by a bad team. Chicago holds a 23-9-4 record this season, and their 50 points are the most in the entire NHL. They’ve also been almost unbeatable at home this season, going 13-2-3, only Detroit has a better home record. I think we all remember what happened when the Kings were in Detroit a couple of weeks ago. Chicago has also won five consecutive games at home and are 6-0-1 at the United Center in December, and overall they are red-hot lately, winning two straight games and are 8-1-1 in their last 10. Needless to say, the Kings should once again have their hands full tonight.
The Blackhawks are getting it done this season with a lethal offense, averaging 3.28 goals per game, ranking their offense fourth in the league. The Kings’ sixth-ranked defense, allowing an average of only 2.36 goals against per game, will look to keep the ‘Hawks in check. The Kings finally broke the three-goal barrier, but at just an average of 2.14 goals per game, still hold the worst offense in the league, and will have to deal with Chicago’s 15th-ranked defense, allowing an average of 2.78 goals against per game
On special teams, the Blackhawks’ lethal offense doesn’t slow down with the man-advantage, as they have the seventh-ranked power-play in the league, converting on 19.8% of their chances. The Kings penalty kill has been outstanding lately, killing off 63 of the Kings’ last 66 penalties and is ranked fifth in the NHL, killing off 87.5% of their penalties, but would be wise to stay out of penalty trouble against a team like the Blackhawks. The Kings have had trouble staying out of the penalty box lately, but only took a pair of penalties against the Coyotes on Monday. The Kings’ brutal power-play as of late has been well-documented, as it now ranks just 22nd in the league, converting on only 15.1% of their opportunities, but the Kings will hope that Chicago’s 27th-ranked penalty kill, killing off just 78.3% of their penalties, will help awaken the Los Angeles power-play from its slumber. The Blackhawks have a defense ranked in the middle of the NHL, despite such a brutal penalty kill, so that likely points to them being a good defensive team at even-strength, and with the Kings’ struggles offensively at even-strength, they’d better hope that their power-play finally gets going tonight.
It’s to the surprise of no one that the ‘Hawks have such a powerful offense when they’re led by four of the best players in the game in my opinion, which would be the quartet of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Behind them are Dave Bolland, Marcus Kruger, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers, Brandon Pirri and Viktor Stalberg. John Scott is usually a defenseman, but with Marcus Kruger not expected to play due to injury and Daniel Carcillo is on the injured reserve, they’ll likely need him to move up and play forward.
On defense, the Blackhawks are led by the high-profile duo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and behind them are the likes of Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy, Sami Lepisto, Steve Montador, and two-time former King Sean O’Donnell. One of them will be a healthy scratches. As mentioned earlier, John Scott is a natural defenseman, but also capable of playing forward and that is what he is expected to do tonight.
In goal, it’s expected to be Corey Crawford, who owns a record of 14-7-2 without a shutout to go along with a 2.83 GAA and a .902 Sv%. However, it could also be backup Ray Emery, who has had a strong season, owning a record of 9-2-2 without a shutout to go along with a 2.54 GAA and a .908 Sv%.
For the Kings, Simon Gagne has been placed on injured reserve after suffering a concussion on a hit into the boards late in the first period on Monday (Gagne came back to play the second period, but not the third), so that took care of how the Kings were going to get back down to a 23-man roster once the roster freeze lifted yesterday, but they will need to make a move once Gagne returns, of course. Andrei Loktionov took Gagne’s spot on the second line, and the only other change was Trent Hunter replacing Kevin Westgarth on the fourth line. So, they skated at the morning skate today with lines of Anze Kopitar between Brad Richardson and Dustin Brown, Mike Richards between Andrei Loktionov and Trevor Lewis, Jarret Stoll between Dustin Penner and Justin Williams, and Colin Fraser between Kyle Clifford and Trent Hunter. As mentioned earlier, Kevin Westgarth is expected to be a healthy scratch. Loktionov doesn’t appear to be ready, and after spending the last three games as a healthy scratch, will get what is likely one final chance to show he can produce up here before Gagne returns. At least, one final chance for now. Even if he gets sent back down to Manchester shortly, he’ll be fine down the road. He’s also clearly better at centre, but there is not a spot open for him at centre right now. Perhaps he’ll surprise us and show us something on wing tonight, we’ll see.
On defense, the pairings of Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Slava Voynov, and Jack Johnson with Matt Greene all remained intact. Alec Martinez and Davis Drewiske are expected to be healthy scratches.
In goal, it’s expected to be Jonathan Quick, making his eighth straight start and 31st in 37 games this season, although it’s possible that Jonathan Bernier could play in Winnipeg tomorrow, with the Kings playing on back-to-back nights with a flight in between, and Jonathan Quick just started both games in that same scenario last week (home to Anaheim, then in San Jose the next night), and Quick has had a heavy workload already this season, but surely Darryl Sutter does not wish to burn him out already.
Well, the Kings are in tough against the first-overall team in the NHL, but they’re certainly due to finally get a win against the Blackhawks. Will they finally be able to beat Chicago, or will the ‘Hawks continue their dominance over the Kings?