As the Los Angeles Kings prepare for their back-to-back games with the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday at Staples Center and Thursday at Honda Center, they’re getting some reinforcements from Manchester (and Russia), as a pair of top prospects, Russian forward Andrei Loktionov and Russian defenseman Slava Voynov, have been recalled from the Monarchs.
With Dustin Penner’s hand injury and Scott Parse’s lower-body injury landing them on the injured reserve, the Kings felt the need for some help up front, and although Loktionov is a natural centre who plays much better at centre and hasn’t looked great at wing when used there, the Kings are going to try him on the left side on the second line with Mike Richards and Dustin Brown and hope that he can gel with them and help generate some offense.
Meanwhile, Alec Martinez also is on his way to the injured reserve, due to a shoulder injury he suffered on the hit from Warren Peters on Saturday. Martinez missed the rest of the first period, but returned and played the rest of the game and even scored a goal, so it’s a little bit of a surprise that he ends up on the injured reserve. On the other hand, Loktionov’s good buddy, and countryman, Slava Voynov comes back up, after a very impressive five-game stint earlier in the season when Drew Doughty was hurt that was capped off by a two-goal, one-assist performance in a 5-3 win against the Dallas Stars on October 27th.
Even without Penner and Parse, I was kind of surprised that the Kings called Loktionov up. First of all, I wasn’t sure if they would want to use him at wing, but apparently they’re comfortable with that. Second, even without Penner, Parse, and Loktionov, it’s pretty crowded up front for the Kings now. Without Penner and Parse but with Loktionov, the Kings skated today at practice with the normal first line of Anze Kopitar between Simon Gagne and Justin Williams, with Mike Richards between Andrei Loktionov and Dustin Brown on the second line, with Jarret Stoll between Kyle Clifford and Trent Hunter on the third line, and with a crowded fourth line that saw Ethan Moreau, Colin Fraser, Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis, and Kevin Westgarth all rotating in. Two of those guys are going to have to be healthy scratches, and it’s looking like it will be Richardson and Westgarth, meaning the Kings will stay with a fourth line of Ethan Moreau, Colin Fraser, and Trevor Lewis. Richardson was on the second line last game and Murray praised his play, but he’s simply the odd-man-out (along with Westgarth).
On defense, it’s not quite as complicated with Voynov replacing Martinez. Or is it? Davis Drewiske will probably be the healthy scratch, while the six defensemen who dress will be Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, Jack Johnson, Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, and Slava Voynov. You’d even think that this makes it easier, with the right-handed shooting Voynov replacing the left-handed shooting Martinez, there are now three left-handed shooting defensemen and three right-handed shooting defensemen. However, the Kings usually like to go pairings of Willie Mitchell with Drew Doughty, an all-lefty pairing of Rob Scuderi with Jack Johnson, and Alec Martinez with Matt Greene. I doubt Murray wants to just let Voynov take Martinez’s spot on the third pairing, especially since it means one of him or Greene will have to play their opposite side, so in order to accommodate Voynov replacing Martinez, it appears that Jack Johnson will be paired with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell will be paired with Slava Voynov, and Rob Scuderi will be paired with Matt Greene. Again, Brad Richardson, Kevin Westgarth, and Davis Drewiske will be the healthy scratches.
For what it’s worth, Penner is skating near the end of practice with a no-contact jersey on just taking some shots and skating (it’s believed he has at least one broken knuckle), but there’s no definitive timetable yet on when any of Penner, Parse, and Martinez will return, so whether it’s a short stint up here or a long one, the Kings are hoping that Voynov and Loktionov make it a very hard decision to send them back down (although there wasn’t much more that Voynov could do last time, but he still got sent down). The Kings will also hope that Loktionov and Voynov can help out the offense, as well as help them pick up a couple of victories against the Anaheim Ducks this week. It’s not been the start to the season that the Ducks wanted, that’s for sure. Anaheim actually got off to a 4-1-0 start, but followed that up with an 0-2-1 stretch. Then they pulled off a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild, but followed that up with an abysmal 0-4-2 stretch. Then they pulled off a 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks (in a game that they were leading 4-0 after two), but followed that up with a 3-2 loss to the Wild on Sunday. Overall, the Ducks are 6-8-3 on the year, with just 15 points in 17 games they are 14th in the Western Conference.
Pretty much everything’s been a disaster for the Ducks this year. They can’t score, they’re averaging two goals per game which is dead last in the NHL. They’re giving up 2.82 goals against per game, which ranks them 21st in the NHL. Meanwhile, their power play’s clicking at just a 13.6% success rate, the 23rd-ranked power play in the NHL. Their only bright spot has been their penalty kill, killing off 87% of their penalties, the eighth-best penalty kill in the NHL.
I’ve heard many people wonder why the Ducks struggle to score so much when they have so much talent up front. Well, although there’s certainly an argument to be made that no team in the league has a better top-four forward group than Anaheim does, the Ducks have very little up front other than that, so when you don’t have good depth and your stars aren’t producing a ton, then you’re not going to score much. In 17 games this season, Teemu Selanne has five goals and 10 assists, defending MVP Corey Perry has six goals and five assists, Ryan Getzlaf has four goals and five assists, and Bobby Ryan has five goals and four assists. Certainly respectable numbers, but the Ducks expect more from their big four, because they don’t have many forwards who can score behind them. What else the Ducks have at forward, they have Saku Koivu, who is in the twilight of his career and has just two goals and four assists this season (did I mention he’s their highest-scoring forward outside of their big four?), Andrew Cogliano, Matt Beleskey, Maxime Macenauer, Andrew Gordon, Brandon McMillan, Jean-Francois Jacques, and Devante Smith-Pelley. Niklas Hagman, who was recently claimed by the Ducks off of re-entry waivers from the Calgary Flames, has not yet been able to join his new team because of visa issues. Ben Maxwell, another recent Anaheim waiver claim, is expected to be a healthy scratch, while Jason Blake and enforcer George Parros are on the injured reserve.
On the blue line, former King Lubomir Visnovsky led all NHL defensemen with 68 points last year, but will apparently be out for about a month with what is being reported as a broken finger (it’s a bad time to be a former King on the Ducks… Parros, Blake, and Visnovsky all on the injured reserve… Just goes to show, you can’t switch sides in this rivalry). So that’s obviously a huge loss to Anaheim’s defense. What do the Ducks have left on their blue line? Sophomore Cam Fowler can produce some offense, and veteran Francois Beauchemin is a steady stay-at-home blue liner with a big shot. Toni Lydman, Luca Sbisa, Sheldon Brookbank, and Kurtis Foster make up the remainder of Anaheim’s defense corps, while Matt Smaby is also on the injured reserve. Nate Guenin is expected to be a healthy scratch.
In goal, it’s expected to be Jonas Hiller, despite his struggles this season. However, it could also be his backup, Dan Ellis, if the Ducks decide they’d rather have Hiller start at home in the second half of the back-to-back. Jonathan Quick will be in goal for the Kings, while Murray says that he hasn’t decided on a starter for Thursday. Personally, I’m hoping that Murray is sensible enough to start Jonathan Bernier. If he’s not going to start Bernier in back-to-back situations, against a bad team no less, then when is he? Bernier has only made three of the 17 starts this season, and that number absolutely has to go up. We’ll see what ends up happening.
Can Loktionov and Voynov help the Kings take advantage of the reeling Ducks, or will the Ducks be able to solve their problems against the Kings?