Last we saw the Kings, it was at the tail end of the circus trip where the Hawks desperately needed two points to salvage a .500 road trip. They got it after a nearly perfect first period road on the road before things got a little more dicey in the remaining 40 with the Hawks staying strong and finishing out the circus trip with an even record.
Things have certainly changed a little bit since then.. For one, the Kings fired head coach Terry Murray about halfway through this month after a mediocre start to the year... a four game losing streak was the final nail in the coffin for him. Losing to the Habs ought to cost any coach his job at this point though. Taking his place, our old friend Darryl Sutter. Sutter has sparked a little bit of life in the team so far with points in his first three games (2-0-1). The wins against Phoenix and Anaheim and an SO-L against San Jose. So all three so far for Sutter have been close games but his first real test will come against the Hawks tonight.
Not that the Hawks are far and away better than teams like the Yotes or Sharks... they are a lot better than Anaheim though. The real real reason this will be a measuring stick game for the Kings is their recent record against the Hawks. The Hawks have won 7 straight against LA despite the two teams seeming pretty close on paper. That's why they play the game though.
Coming into the year, the Kings seemed like they were going to be led from the back on out with Jonathan Quick backstopping a scary defense and a more than a few forwards who could make the Kings a real threat in the already crowded Western Conference. Well... Quick has been pretty solid. We'll give 'em that. He's got a higher Sv% and lower GAA than in year's past but the rest of the team isn't really living up to their end of the bargain. The defense which seemed like it could potentially eat smaller teams, like the Hawks, alive doesn't quite have the snarl we all expected even if they still could remain among the top of the league.
Where the problems begin (and probably end) for the Kings is their absolutely anemic offense. The Kings are still a team that hasn't met a shot they haven't liked - meaning they'll fire them on net from every angle possible no matter how badly that may screw up their chances for puck possession or pressure. They're 11th overall in the league in SOG/G but dead last in actually getting some of those shots past the goalie. Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar are still the only Kings in double digit territory for goals. Kop is having a decent year for assists though with 24 on the year. That means Kopitar has just over 18% of all Kings assists. Shut him down and a lot of Kings scoring goes down with him.
For the Blackhawks - a somewhat surprising move as Corey Crawford will get yet another chance to show us he can be trusted with the #1 spot. He's had a solid couple of games but as Hack mentioned in the last game's wrap, he's far from perfect out there and is still fighting at times for saves that seemed routine for him last year. He could still be on a short leash but until he proves he can't handle it, I'd say Q trusts him as his starter again... at least til Friday.
The line up is almost sure to have some minor tweaks to it though. Daniel Carcillo has said he's ready to go while there's concern that Marcus Kruger could have a little bit more of a problem than we thought. After a few hard hits in the game against the Jackets, he missed practice yesterday and his status (at the moment of writing this) is unclear. With all of the major press being given to the concussions (is it possible for this to be the most talked about topic and for it to still under-reported on?) it is probably in everyone's best interest, most of all Kruger's, for him to sit until he's 100% ready. This is a really tough break for Dream Warrior as he's been playing a pretty solid stretch of hockey. THe point totals aren't there but his work on the second line has been a welcome relief. And really, point totals will come when you're playing with Hossa and Sharp.
Finally, Patrick Kane is also somewhat questionable after missing yesterday's practice with the flu. Kane seems to get the flu pretty often but I guess that's what happens when the only vitamin C you get is when you get an orange slice in your cocktail. Q is mum so far on whether he'll play but I'd bet he skates tonight despite any lingering illness.
Law of averages says the Kings are due to win a game against the Hawks sometime soon but just because the roulette ball has landed on red the last 7 times doesn't mean it won't do the same for an eighth. Their defense and goalie are strong but the team still struggles to score more than 2 goals a game far too often. The chances will be there if the Hawks want them.
Let's Go Hawks