Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Kings: Looking to end trip on high note
By Dan Arritt
Kings (13-7-0) vs. Montreal Canadiens (13-7-1) at Bell Centre, 4:30 p.m. (PT)
Five storylines to track:
1. Road rules -- As the bleuprint goes, the surest way for an NHL team to advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs is to win most of its home games and play .500 on the road. The Kings are following that formula rather exactly, owning an 8-1-0 record at Staples Center and a 5-6-0 mark away from Los Angeles. A victory at Montreal will not only give the Kings a .500 road record for the season, but will push them to 2-2 for the road trip.
2. Bernier in the spotlight -- The Kings have allowed 21 goals in the last five games, but their goaltending hasn’t been as bad as the numbers indicate. Plenty of attention will be paid to Kings back-up Jonathan Bernier when he skates in front of the net against the Canadiens. He grew up about a half hour away in Laval and has envisioned this opportunity for as long as he has worn blockers. Kings coach Terry Murray previously stated he plans to give Bernier about 25% of the starts through the end of the year, but has recently hedged on that plan as Bernier has struggled and No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick has shined.
3. One rookie replaces another -- First-year defenseman Jake Muzzin was sent to the Kings’ AHL team in Manchester on Tuesday and another rookie defender was called up. What impact Alec Martinez will have, or if he’ll even suit up against Montreal, will be determined Wednesday. He has proved to be productive on the power play in Manchester, however, and the Kings can use all the help they can get in that area. They have just 12 goals in 81 man-advantage situations, leaving them 24th in the league in efficiency.
4. Crushing the advantage -- Where both teams have shined this season is on the penalty kill. Montreal is ranked No. 1 in the NHL with a 90.8% success rate, while the Kings have slid to sixth at 86.9%. Los Angeles was atop this category until losing four of the last five and allowing six power-play goals in 20 man-advantage situations during that stretch. Overall, Montreal is second in the league in fewest goals allowed (2.00) and the Kings are fifth (2.45), so there’s little room for error when facing these teams.
5. Halpern's helping hand -- The Kings didn’t get much out of Jeff Halpern when they traded for him last March. He failed to score a goal in 16 games for Los Angeles and wasn’t offered a contract at season’s end. He signed a one-year deal with Montreal in early September and has quietly emerged as the team’s fourth-leading scorer, producing 13 points while centering the third line. He had two assists in a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on Monday, and was recently quoted as saying he enjoyed playing for the Canadiens because "they have a lot of good, smart players, and I knew that I’d be with good players no matter what (line) I played on." Feel free to read between the lines.