Kings (35-24-4, 74 points) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (33-22-10, 76) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Welcome addition – Dustin Penner is scheduled to make his debut with the Kings tonight, most likely at left wing on the top line. He was traded from Edmonton on Monday for minor-league defenseman Colten Teubert, the Kings’ first-round draft pick in June and a conditional third-round pick next season (if the Kings win the Stanley Cup this year, the Oilers will receive a second-round pick). Penner will wear jersey No. 25 for Los Angeles. He arrives with 21 goals on the season, technically giving the Kings five 20-goal scorers in the same season for the first time since 1993-94.
2. Goalkeeper change – Kings coach Terry Murray has decided to start back-up Jonathan Bernier in goal. No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick allowed six goals on 24 shots in a 7-4 loss Saturday against Detroit before getting pulled. Murray said his decision to start Bernier was based heavily on Quick’s performance against the Red Wings and not his 1-3 career record against the Coyotes. This is the second time this season Quick’s sub-par performance has led to a Bernier start. Bernier played well the last time, a 2-1 loss in Dallas, but he’ll probably need to be even better this time to hold on to the No. 1 role.
3. Here we go again? – This is a key game in that the Kings don’t want to hear the word ‘slump’ in the locker room again this season. Each of the Kings hot streaks this season were followed by shivering cold streaks that began with defensive meltdowns. The Kings won 12 of their first 15 games to start the season, then lost, 6-3, in San Jose, the first of seven losses in eight games. They went 9-2-1 to start December, then lost, 6-3, in Phoenix, kicking off 10 losses in 12 games. The Kings just finished a 11-1-3 stretch by getting blasted by Detroit. The start of a familiar trend?
4. Kopi’s feeling it –Penner is hooking up with top-line center Anze Kopitar at just the right time. Kopitar has seven points in the last four games and 12 in the last nine. He now has 20 goals and 42 assists, putting him on pace to produce a career-low goal total, but a career high in assists. He has been a little too unselfish at times lately, such as when he decided to make an extra pass to Brad Richardson at the end of a 3 on 1 last week against Minnesota, catching Richardson by surprise. Don’t be surprised if Kopitar goes out of his way to set up Penner for an ice-breaking goal against Phoenix.
5. Standings shuffle –The Western Conference playoff race continues to resemble the Daytona 500. A driver falls out of the draft and get passed by a half dozen cars, while one in the rear gets a couple new tires and surges to the front. The Coyotes have fallen out of the draft after losing the last four games, dropping from a comfortable top four position into the knot that represents fifth through 11th in the West. The Kings haven't played since losing to Detroit, causing them to drop from fifth to eighth. Chicago, meanwhile, has won five straight to leapfrog from outside the top eight to fourth.