January 04 2014 01:38PM
If tonight's game between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks is even one half of the game that we saw the last time these two teams hooked up, I think we'll all be satisfied. It was over a month ago now that all hell broke loose after Jordan Nolan took a run at Henrik Sedin. Once the fisticuffs concluded we saw a spirited effort in which the Canucks really raised the level of their game to another level (serving as a precursor for what was to come in December, essentially), only to have a couple of brutal defensive breakdowns late in the game result in a tough overtime loss.
I think it's clear at this point that these teams really don't like each other, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar sort of game like the one we saw in late November. I remember a while back Elliotte Friedman saying that out of all the teams in the West the Kings were the ones that gave the Canucks the most problems stylistically, but I'm not sure I agree with that. I'd say that given the way they're currently constructed, the Canucks would rather play in a 2-1 or 3-2 game than a back-and-forth shootout v. San Jose or Chicago, but that's just me.
Regardless, at the risk of sounding like the talking head on your television, this really is a big game for both teams (sorry, I don't mean to sound like a talking head on your television). Shit is getting real in a hurry. Read on past the jump for a preview.
Puck drop: 7:00 PM PST
A 5-game skid for the Kings has caused their stronghold over the 3rd seed in the Pacific Division to dissipate all the down to a single point (more on their struggles in just a little bit). Meanwhile, the Canucks start a 2-week stretch that'll go a long way in determining where they stand in the West; they'll face the Kings twice, the Ducks twice, the Blues, and the Coyotes. With the second leg of a back-to-back looming against the Mighty Ducks - who are 12-1 in their last 13, and are resting up at home right now - it would behoove them to bring it tonight.
Roberto Luongo is back between the pipes for the Canucks following what essentially amounted to a 4-game absence due to a minor groin injury. While these sorts of things are very fluid and can quite easily act up/get reaggravated, it appears as if this was more of a precautionary stint on the shelf than anything else. This news comes at a good time considering his replacement Eddie Lack had given up 7 goals against in the past 2 games, showing signs of being a human after posting the first 2 sub-.900 save % starts of his young career.
If you'll recall the last time the Canucks were in LA, Luongo was pulled roughly halfway through the 2nd period, and while the Kings have been struggling in the goal scoring department lately, I suspect he'll need to be on his A-game for them to send Tom Hanks home unhappy.
While the return of the starting goaltender is certainly big, I think that the changes to the man advantage coming out of yesterday's practice may be just as (if not more) important. Jason Botchford did a real nice job here in summarizing the changes here, which are both long overdue and somewhat relieving (knowing that there is in fact a hockey god that listens to my prayers).
Ideally this will be effective on two fronts: a) waking up a power play that, after seemingly coming around for a while there in early December, has been brutal of late (scoring once in the last 7 games, with that one tally being a goal by Brad Richardson 1 second before a PP expired), and b) keeping Dan Hamhuis' minutes slightly down, allowing him to continue doing his damn thang at 5v5 and on the PK.
Here are Vancouver's relevant underlying numbers for the year:
|Corsi Close%||52.4% (8th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.44 (7th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.08 (9th)|
|5v4 GF/60||4.29 (28th)|
|5v4 SF/60||63.0 (2nd)|
|4v5 GA/60||3.49 (1st)|
|4v5 SA/60||40.1 (1st)|
As you can tell, the Kings have shaken up their top-6 since the last time these two teams played. While I like the idea of combining Kopitar's playmaking ability with Jeff Carter's shot (and in turn, knack for scoring goals) in principle, I still find it a bit surprising that a bigger deal hasn't been made of the fact that one of the best lines in hockey over the past couple of years was broken up.
The Brown-Kopitar-Williams trio used to be an absolute nightmare to play against, seemingly having control of the puck at all times. As an opponent, I'd be somewhat relieved not to have to go up against them. I still figure that if Darryl Sutter is awake he'll reunite them, and have Carter-Richards-Toffoli round out the top-6 by the time the playoffs roll around.
Meanwhile, on D it's all about Drew Doughty. He's getting lost in the Norris Trophy talk this year due to Duncan Keith's monster point totals, PK Subban and Erik Karlsson once again being overtly dynamic, and Ryan Suter logging all of the minutes, but he's once again having himself a whale of a season. When him and Jake Muzzin are playing together, the Kings control 58.9% of all shot attempts at 5v5, and 70.8% of the goals scored. Luckily for him and the Kings, he appears to have escaped the anchor known as Robyn Regehr (for the time being..).
Last time these two teams played Ben Scrivens was the big story, as he was in the midst of his scorching 10-game run (in which he gave up 15 total goals). It seemed almost unfathomable that a goaltender could play better than Scrivens had been playing, but then Martin Jones (and his 8 starts, 8 goals against, 8 wins) and well, I didn't know what to think anymore.
Thankfully some semblance of order has been restored in the world, with those two having stopped only 88.7% of the shots they've faced in the team's last 5 games. Now, it's sounding like their 3rd best goaltender this season, the $58 million man, could be making his return tonight. So there's that.
In some sad news, Linden Vey is back in Manchester which means that the potential for puns takes a big hit on this night. We'll always have that time Twitter is exploded with Vey puns. For now, Jeff Carter/Mike Richards jokes, Jonathan Quick's contract, and the GIF below will have to suffice:
Here are LA's #fancystats:
|Corsi Close %||57.0% (1st)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.06 (20th)|
|5v5 GA/60||1.54 (1st)|
|5v4 GF/60||4.77 (24th)|
|5v4 SF/60||54.8 (11th)|
|4v5 GA/60||5.91 (12th)|
|4v5 SA/60||50.0 (15th)|
[Stats via extraskater.com]
The Los Angeles Kings have fallen on some hard times of late, losing 5 games in a row (having been outscored 17-6 over that time). It's because of this recent skid that they've seen their cushion over the Canucks in the Pacific Division hierarchy drop to a measly 1 point (with both teams having played 42 games).
While the 8 people in LA who had heard of hockey before '11 are probably worried by that trend, the dudes over at Jewels From the Crown (a fantastic Kings blog that you should give a look) note that it's a combination of bad luck and inevitable goaltending regression that is behind the drought.