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Closing Out The Central: Kings At Blackhawks – Preview/Pre-Game Thread/Fish-Fry

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Game Time: 2:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBC, WGN-AM720
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Oh, hello again everyone. You recovered from Saturday’s festivities? Got some good brunch in you? Maybe a Bloody Mary? Good. It’s just about time for some afternoon hockey then.

This afternoon the Blackhawks face the reigning Champions for the second time this season. I’m sure we all remember how the first match up went but just in case you need a reminder, it was pretty damn awesome for the men of four feathers and their fans.

Since that opening game things haven’t been too kind for LA. They haven’t reached the same level of comedy that is the San Jose Sharks but they’re not too far off either. Right now, they’re a .500 hockey team with a 5-5-2 record and that’s only because of their two-game winning streak they’re on after beating the Blues and Jackets.

There’s a few reasons for the Kings relative struggles this year. Injuries certainly have been an issue. Matt Greene was lost for the season in the opener against the Hawks and Willie Mitchell still has yet to play while he recovers from a knee injury. Both of those players had a large role to play on the Kings blue-line and they haven’t been able to find replacements quite yet.

It can’t all be blamed on a struggling blue line however. The Kings come into the game today ranked 27th in the league in Goals/Game (2.25). Only three players have 3 or more goals (Kopitar, Carter and Brown) compared to the 7 the Blackhawks.. and any time Mr. Sharp wants to join that club would be fine by us.

Everything else being equal, scoring just over two goals a game wouldn’t be the biggest issue for a team like the Kings. Last year, there wasn’t a hotter goalie than Jonathan Quick. That hasn’t been the case this year though. After finishing last year with a 1.95 GAA, he’s rocking it at 2.70 for the start of this season. There isn’t reason to panic if you’re the fan of the Kings though. Quick had surgery in August and didn’t get any time playing or even practicing in the off-season, just rehabbing. A wise Canadian once told us that rust never sleeps and that’s showing in Quick’s game this year. He’s a step slower than he is normally. That won’t last forever but for the moment we may see him on the bench far more than we’re used to.

In the last two victories, the Kings have gone with back-up Jonathan Brenier. He’s risen to the challenge of his first two consecutive starts since January of 2011. Only two pucks have found their way past Brenier in the last two games. It helps that the Kings only allowed 13 shots against Columbus too though. But hey, Brenier even got an assist in the last game.. so he’s also hotter than most of the Kings forwards at the moment.

There’s still no word on who is getting the start today. The only way Quick is going to improve is by getting playing time so at some point the Kings are going to have to just bite the bullet and stay with Quick until he gets better or they die trying. The Kings are already at the bottom of the Western Conference, saved from being dead last only by the trio of awfulness that is Columbus, Colorado and Calgary (hey… Chicago is the only team in the West that starts with a C that doesn’t totally suck. That’s nice). We all know that with the shortened season that teams can’t afford to dig too deep of a hole for themselves so the Kings need to get going soon if they’re hoping to avoid the fate of the Hawks the year after their cup victory.

And if there’s one team the Kings would like to see their fates reversed against, it’s probably the Hawks after the paddling they received by Chicago to start off the season. It seems like Crawford is still struggling with the dreaded “upper body injury” and will be sitting out the game. So we’ll see first back-to-back starting of Razor between the pipes. Ray’s had a bit of an up and down season so far. Pretty jittery against the Coyotes, brilliant against Calgary. On Friday he fell a bit more towards the Phoenix side of things. There were plenty of rebounds that could have been trouble if the Hawks D-men weren’t there to clear away any problems. That won’t be as easy against a team like the Kings. While San Jose has basically given up on life (or at least on hockey), the Kings are a team that loves an aggressive forecheck and crashes the net any chance they get. If Emery leaves the puck in front of the crease, the Kings are going to find it.

Everything up front out to remain the same save any last minute goofiness from Q. The Kings aren’t going to be a push over but they’re a team that’s struggling and the Hawks need to take advantage of any opportunity they get. 3 of 4 points from California so far – lets get two more.

Let’s Go Hawks

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