Kings: Hoping to get in the way of the Avalanche

January, 2, 2012
1/02/12
9:53
AM PT
Kings (19-14-6, 44 points) vs. the Colorado Avalanche (21-18-1, 43 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Pacific view: Thanks to the light NHL schedule on New Year’s Day, the Kings were able to enjoy another 24 hours atop the Pacific Division standings. They made that climb with a 5-0-2 mark over the last seven games, capped by an impressive 4-1 victory Saturday night against the visiting Canucks. The win gave them a one-point edge over division rivals San Jose and Phoenix, though the Sharks have played five fewer games than the Kings and Coyotes. Getting to the top of the Pacific is more of a moral victory anyway. It was just three weeks ago that they fired coach Terry Murray during a miserable stretch of low-scoring, lackadaisical efforts.

2. Kopi-tear? Kings forwards Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards tried the same move on Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo. Richards hit the post on a tough-angle backhand sweep in the first period, Kopitar scored on his attempt in the third, ending a career-long 17-game goal-less streak. The Kings are hoping that will be the spark that ignites Kopitar on one of his hot streaks. Colorado might be arriving at just the right time. Kopitar has carved the Avalanche up in his career, scoring 23 points in 21 games.

3. Noticeably better: The Kings need to score nine goals against the Avalanche to remove the label as the league’s lowest-scoring team. While that probably won’t happen, the Kings have been taking two steps forward and one step back in that area lately, as it was before Darryl Sutter was hired two weeks ago. The Kings have scored 14 goals in six games under Sutter, getting marks from 10 players. Colorado is 20th in the league in goals against and its No. 1 goalie, Semyon Varlamov, has a lofty 3.05 goals-against average.

4. Avs are rollin’: The Avs survived a terrible month of November in which they finished 4-9-1 to get back in contention with a 10-5-0 mark in December. They’re ranked 22nd in the league in scoring, producing one goal or less in 13 games this season. They’ve become more consistent lately, however. Only once in the last 10 games have they been held to less than two goals and they’re 8-2 in that span, equaling Chicago as the hottest team in the NHL. Of course, the Kings beat the Blackhawks last week in Chicago so maybe they're hotter.

5. Leading scorer out: The Avs suffered a big loss Thursday when winger Steve Duchene went down with a knee injury against Phoenix. Duchene, who is expected to be out about a month, leads the team in goals with 12. Colorado played its first game without Duchene on Saturday in Anaheim and didn’t skip a beat in the 4-1 victory. T.J. Galiardi has taken Duchene’s spot on a line centered by Paul Stastney.

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