RECORDS: Hawks 14-6-2 Kings 11-9-1
PUCK DROP: 9:30pm Central
BLACK DEATH: The Royal Half
TEAM CORSI: Hawks – 51.0% (11th) Kings – 53.8% (3rd)
POWER PLAY: Hawks -18.4% (14th) Kings – 12.7% (26th)
PENALTY KILL: Hawks – Almost listable? Kings – 81.7% (17th)
TRENDS: Carter has four goals in his last four games… Doughty has four points in the last three
The last Circus Trip comes to a close tonight on Figueroa Avenue, as it usually has. It only feels like the Hawks have been on the road for a month, and I doubt anyone in the organization is going to miss this trip too much. They sit idled at 3-3 so far, so a successful trip hinges on tonight’s result.
Let’s start with the Hawks for a change. Coming off yesterday’s win in the O.C., the big question will be if Jonathan Toews plays. Considering the points the Hawks have already bagged, another three days to get over whatever is ailing him would seem the most prudent path. Q might have been more tempted to sit him out with a Kopitar-less Kings on the other bench, but it looks like Anze will return from injury tonight. Other than than Michal Kempny should come back in for Rozsival. Scott Darling will get the start, and as always his starts on the road can go just about anywhere.
Now to the Kings. They’re are stuck in the ooze of mediocrity that is the Pacific Division, sitting in third behind the Oilers and Sharks and just ahead of the Ducks that we all saw yesterday. The Kings have had their struggles with the owies. Kopitar comes back tonight after missing a handful of games. Marian Gaborik could also return tonight after not playing this season while getting hurt during the World Cup. Andy Andreoff is out, as has been Kyle Clifford. But Clifford could also get in tonight if Gabbo isn’t ready to come off the shelf. Brayden McNabb also remains in ice on the blue line. And as you may have heard, Jonathan Quick is out for months after his groin went twang in the season’s opener.
With all that, the Kings have remained afloat the way you’d expect them to. They barely allow any shots or attempts at all, remaining one of the league’s best possession teams because of it. They keep opponents along the walls where they still have a lot of size tow in those battles. They simply won’t let you carry the puck into their zone and can win it back in yours if you do the same.
While Kings fans would point to Quick’s injury for their “meh” record, the work they’ve gotten out of Peter Budaj has been more than acceptable. He’s at .916 SV% overall, and .925 at evens. Neither is glittering but it should be enough to have gotten the Kings a few more points than it has.
The reason it hasn’t is the Kings struggle to score. Their power play has been woeful, Kopitar’s absence certainly didn’t help that. They’re shooting just 7.5% at evens. But that’s not guaranteed to rise all that much either, because the Kings don’t have a lot of natural scorers, at least they didn’t without Kopitar and Gaborik. And Gaborik is 34. Pearson is not going to be able to keep shooting 18%, and once you get past the top 6 (when healthy) there’s just a lot of worker bees and pluggers.
The defense should be a little more dynamic than it’s been, with Doughty and Martinez and the new hotness in Forbort. But as we know Darryl Sutter’s gameplans aren’t exactly full of fireworks, and other than Doughty everyone else is basically expected to either blast from the point or just put the puck back down low.
The Hawks have usually kept their focus on this one instead of the plane ride home on this trip, which will be the task tonight. The Hawks have a pretty large speed gap on the Kings all over the ice, and they should used that to push the Kings blue line back so they don’t have to dump it in and try and win battles they probably can’t. It’s just as important to use that speed on the backcheck too, as the Kings other than Doughty don’t really want to play at that pace. Budaj isn’t likely to win a game for the Kings, but he’s not likely to lose it either the way he’s been going.
4-3 sounds a lot better than 3-4, even if it isn’t really. Getting there with Toews missing the last two would be an even better accomplishment.