Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Kings: Post-Kopitar season begins in Edmonton
By Dan Arritt
Kings (43-26-6, 92 points) vs. Edmonton Oilers (23-41-11, 57) at Rexall Place, 6:30 p.m. PT.
Five storylines to track:
1. Show must go on – The news grew a lot worse Monday regarding the right ankle injury suffered by leading-scorer Anze Kopitar in the second period of a 4-1 victory Saturday against the visiting Colorado Avalanche. Kopitar has ligament damage that will require corrective surgery Wednesday and is out indefinitely. By all indications, that means a lot more time on the shelf than the previous estimate of six weeks. Already without second-leading scorer Justin Williams for at least another two weeks due to a dislocated shoulder, the organization must feel like it was kneed in the midsection and then hit with a stiff uppercut.
2. Opportunity for others – With the absence of Kopitar and Williams, every player needs to elevate their play to pick up some slack. Two key players to focus on are Oscar Moller and Trevor Lewis, who have the potential to be regular contributors in the scoring column, they've just never been asked to do it. Michal Handzus is expected to assume Kopitar’s top-line center role and he’ll need to focus on making plays, rather than just creating obstacles.
3. Penner’s return – Ryan Smyth is usually treated like a rock star when he returns to Edmonton, where he played for 11 seasons, but this time around Dustin Penner is sure to draw the most media interest. Penner was dealt from the Oilers to Los Angeles at the trade deadline Feb. 28 and this will be his first trip back to Edmonton since the transaction. Penner could use some extra incentive to perform well. After scoring points in six of his first seven games with the Kings, he has gone point-less in the last five.
4. Bernier’s back – Jonathan Bernier is expected to start in goal for the Kings. He got on a roll midway through last month after coach Terry Murray began alternating starts between Bernier and Jonathan Quick. Bernier went 5-0-2 in that stretch with a 2.00 goals-against average. Bernier hasn’t made a start since March 15, however, taking the back seat again as Murray follows his script of giving Quick the majority of starts down the stretch. It will be interesting to see if Bernier can pick up where he left off in this must-win setting.
5. End of an era -- The Kings have Bob Miller, the Oilers have Rod Phillips. Both are NHL Hall of Fame play-by-play announcers but after Tuesday’s game only one will remain in his chair. Phillips will call his final game against the Kings, retiring after 37 seasons behind the microphone. The team plans a ceremony before the game and the players would probably like nothing more than to honor Phillips by ending their nine-game losing streak. They Kings would rather make it a perfect 10.