FACEOFF: 9;30pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN for the locals, NBCSN for the non, Sportsnet for the Hosers, WGN Radio
The post All-Star Break… well you can’t really call it a rush until March or so, so I guess portion? Section? Let’s all agree February kinda sucks and move on. Anyway, there’s no stoppages at least from tonight all the way until the Hawks pack up the bags at some point in the spring. And of course it kicks off with a stop in L.A. to begin the California swing of this six-game roadie. Because why start off easy?
They’re doing that thing again. The Kings want us to believe something is fundamentally wrong there. There’s even a little controversy, or even more than they’ve had. It’s been tumultuous, with Slava Voynov hopefully on the slow-boat to the Gulag, and now Mike Richards on his way to the AHL. The Kings sit outside the playoff picture at the moment, three points behind the Flames for the last wildcard spot and also three points behind the soon-to-be splat-on-the-concrete Canucks for the last automatic spot in the Pacific. Actually, the Flames are going to make quite the squish on the asphalt too soon, and that’s all the Kings have to wait for.
And that is one of many reasons that you can’t fall for this ruse again. It wouldn’t even be a shock if the Sharks slide right on by and the Kings can have home-ice in the first round for the first time by simply standing still with a bemused look on their face.
This is still one of the best possession teams in the league. They’re 4th in Score-Adjusted Corsi and 2nd in Fenwick. They’re still deep at forward and still have maybe the best and most exciting d-man in Drew Doughty. They still have a goalie who can go nuclear for a stretch, though he can go nuclear in either direction.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. The Kings have been stripped of two-thirds of their second line when Tyler Toffoli caught mono and Tanner Pearson broke his leg (he might miss the rest of the season). With Richards turning into hockey Brian Wilson or whatever, it’s tested their depth. Jeff Carter is skating with Trevor Lewis and Dwight King, to illustrate what a problem it’s been. Still, the Kings sit right in the middle of the league in goals for per game.
The loss of Voynov has also stripped their defensive depth. Doughty is skating Suter-like minutes, and while Alex Martinez has been effective enough, Regehr, McNabb, Greene are just as leaden-footed as you remember and that can be an issue against top teams.
They haven’t been helped that lately Quick is doing his dumpster-diving routine. He hasn’t won any of his last seven starts, giving up 20 goals in the process. But as this has gone lately, you can expect a 40-save shutout from him as previous struggling goalies have thrown at the Hawks like Varlamov, Hutchinson, and Lehtonen.
But I won’t be suckered. Toffoli will return. Lombardi will make some trade we didn’t see coming. Quick will even out. Because this world is evil, Voynov will probably return. If you made me place a bet, I still think it’s Round III come late May. I won’t believe they’re dead until you show me the flat line on the monitor.
For the Hawks, the lineup will stay the same with Carcillo suspended even though Rasmussen has been called up, which probably means Veresteeg is going to be out longer than they’re even saying now. On the road, Shaw will probably play center with Teuvo at wing to avoid matchup problems, with Teuvo getting spotted shifts in the middle.
The Hawks pretty much throttled the Kings the last time they were in Staples, which won’t go unnoticed by the homestanding Royals. They raced around the slower pairings of the Kings, which should be the plan tonight. The Kings play is always the same: force teams to dump in the puck, beat them along the wall, get up the ice as quickly as possible. Pretty big test for this Rundblad-Keith pairing (if it indeed holds), as you know the Kings will target Rund The Jewels (not mine, feel free to claim it in the comments) physically.
With the Preds winning last night, and the Preds and Blues playing tomorrow, the Hawks can’t really afford to ho-hum this trip. Getting a second win on Figueroa Avenue would be a good start. So do that.