Nashville Predators (20-13-6) vs. Kings (22-16-1) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Line dancing – Ryan, this is Michal...Marco, I’d like you to meet Jarret...Wayne...never mind, you already know Anze. The Kings might want to wear name tags when they take the ice against the Predators. Coach Terry Murray made changes up and down the lineup, putting players in old roles, new combinations and just about anywhere else he could think of. If it works and Los Angeles ends its four-game slide, he looks like a genius. If it doesn’t, well, it’s back to the drawing board...again.
2. Three’s a charm – Was there any doubt who would start in goal tonight? Jonathan Bernier has put together his two best starts of the season against the Predators. He came within 2 ½ minutes of a shutout in a 4-1 victory Nov. 6 at Staples Center, and stopped 29 shots in a 6-1 win in the Music City on Dec. 18. The downside is he’s 2-6 against the rest of the league, and was a little shaky in his last start, a 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 30.
3. On the flip side – The Kings are expected to see goalkeeper Anders Lindback, who they lit up for three goals in nine shots before he was pulled midway through the first period of the 6-1 victory. Lindback hasn’t started a game since. Because the Predators played Wednesday night in Anaheim and No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne faced 41 shots in the 4-1 victory, coach Barry Trotz is reportedly turning to Lindback.
4. Tight quarters – Heading into Thursday’s games, the difference between fourth and 10th place in the Western Conference standings is two points. Los Angeles and Nashville are right in the middle of that knot. The Kings have lost three straight against conference opponents and can’t afford to give up many more opportunities to gain ground, especially with a 10-game road trip baring down on them next month. The Predators have won three consecutive games, but they’re 0-2 this season in the second game of back-to-backs.
5. First-goal favors – The team that scores first should have a big advantage, if you believe in past performances. Nashville is 13-1-4 when drawing first blood, something it did Wednesday against the Ducks. The Kings are 17-5-0 when they score first, though they haven’t fared so well recently. They scored the first goal against the Flyers and again Monday against the Blackhawks and went on to lose both games.