Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Kings: Last dance vs. Panthers?
By Dan Arritt
Kings (12-8-3, 28 points) vs. Florida Panthers (13-7-4, 30 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Final act? – With left wing Dustin Penner still at least a game away from returning from a hand injury, this could be the final audition for several other forwards. Look for the Kings to stick with the same look up front as Monday night, when they beat the visiting San Jose Sharks, 2-0. Trent Hunter, one of those on the bubble, will get another run with the top line. Andrei Loktionov, the only forward who could be sent down to the AHL without being placed on re-entry waivers, will center the third line, and Colin Fraser, Ethan Moreau and Kevin Westgarth will hold down the fourth. That means back to the press box for Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis.
2. Quick history lesson – Based on Kings coach Terry Murray’s belief that a goalie’s past performance against a particular opponent is the most valuable piece of information when selecting a starter. Jonathan Quick is a no-brainer against the Panthers. He’s 2-0 in his career against Florida with 50 saves in 55 attempts. He’s also coming off his league-leading fourth shutout of the season, when he looked especially sharp against the Sharks from beginning to end. Quick has proved he can get on a roll too, evident by the franchise-record three consecutive shutouts he posted earlier this season. Murray indicated Jonathan Bernier would start Saturday against the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
3. Slow-vember – Kings right wing Justin Williams went the entire month of November without scoring a goal, a slump that has cost him a spot on the top line. Williams, who had 22 goals and 35 assists in 73 games last season, could be primed for a break-out performance against the Panthers, however. The former member of the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes has played more games against the Panthers than any other team in the NHL, and with good success, tallying 14 goals and 14 assists in 41 games. Though he’s back on the third line, he showed good chemistry against the Sharks with the skillful Loktionov and the banger Kyle Clifford.
4. Charged up – The Kings had the fourth-best penalty-kill unit in the league last season. Without that success, they might not make the playoffs. This season hasn’t started out nearly so well. They allowed at least one power-play goal in eight straight games last month, four more than their longest streak last season. The Kings have started to perform like the penalty killers of old, however, killing off 18 consecutive power plays over the last four games to move up to 11th in the league in efficiency. They’ll be tested against Florida, which brings the league’s ninth-best power-play unit into the game.
5. Sturm watch – The Panthers, who ruined the debut of Carolina coach Kirk Muller with a 3-1 victory Tuesday in Raleigh, N.C., are the latest team to give veteran wing Marco Sturm a shot. Sturm, who played briefly for the Kings last season before he was picked up on waivers by Washington, is on his fifth team in the last 12 months. He might not be around Florida much longer either, producing just a goal and an assist in 17 games.