Kings (13-13-4, 30 points) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9-17-4, 22 points) at Nationwide Arena, 4 p.m. (PT)
Five storylines to track:
1. Nine is enough – By now, every member of the Kings’ organization, their spouses, in-laws, neighbors and maybe even the gardeners are well aware they have a scoring issue, one that cost Terry Murray his job as coach earlier this week. They remain last in the league in goals per game at 2.13 and haven’t scored more than two in the previous nine. The last time they went this long without putting a ‘3’ on the scoreboard was during the 2005-06 season. If the Kings are going to break out of their scoring slump, they might need a little help from a spongy defense and Columbus has one of the spongiest. The Blue Jackets enter the game allowing the fifth-highest goal total in the league at 3.23 a game.
2. More scoring shortfalls – The Kings were struggling to light the lamp even before leading goal scorer Mike Richards went down with an apparent concussion on Dec. 1. Since then, they’ve been really bad. In the five losses since the injury to Richards, the Kings have scored six goals. In another troubling trend, the Kings have not scored a first-period goal in the last five games. It probably shouldn’t come as surprise that the Kings are last in the league in first-period goals with 11. The next closest team has 16.
3. Misleading stat – A lot is often made of the connection between shot on goals and team success, but the Kings are actually better off this season the lower their SOG totals. When the Kings take 39 or more SOGs this season, they’re 0-3-1. But when taking 26 or less, their record is 5-2-2. Like a few players have noted this season, it’s not so much the SOGs that make a difference, but the prime scoring chances. The Kings took 41 SOGs in a 3-0 loss Tuesday in Boston, but their best scoring chance wasn’t even a SOG. Dustin Penner had a wide open net at the end of a two-on-none breakaway in the first period, but flicked the puck wide of the goal.
4. Plugged back in – The best opportunity to bust out of scoring slump is on the power play, an area the Kings have wilted since early in the season. Not long ago, they were one of the top 10 teams in the league with the man advantage. Now, they've sunk back to 21st, exactly where they finished a year ago. On their last 28 power plays, the Kings have two goals and have not scored with the man advantage in the last four games. Playing against Columbus should help in that department too. The Blue Jackets come in with the third-worst penalty-kill unit in the league at 74.8 percent.
5. Where’s Willie? – There was a Willie Mitchell sighting at the morning skate Thursday in Columbus, but he'll be out of the lineup again vs. the Blue Jackets. Mitchell was a late scratch Tuesday night in Dallas due to a lower-body injury, the same ailment that caused him to miss four games earlier this month. Mitchell has proved his worth as a top shut-down defenseman for the club, and his absence is felt in the won-loss column. He missed 25 games last season due to injuries and the Kings went 11-13-1 during that stretch. When he was in the lineup, the Kings were 35-17-5. So far this season, that trend has continued. The Kings are 0-4 in games Mitchell has not started. The Kings are also expected to make rookie defenseman Slava Voynov a healthy scratch for the first time this season.