Saturday, January 7, 2012
Kings: Second half of season starts with Blue Jackets
By Dan Arritt
Kings (20-14-7, 47 points) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (10-24-5, 25 points) at Staples Center, 1 p.m.
1. Halfway home – Sportswriters love to make note of milestones, anniversaries and streaks. NHL head coaches? Not really. That’s why it was so refreshing when Kings coach Darryl Sutter reminded the media after the 1-0 overtime victory Thursday against the visiting Coyotes that his team had just played Game No. 41, the halfway point of the season. Thanks to a 5-0-3 record since Sutter took over three days before Christmas, the Kings are just inside the top eight in the Western Conference standings. Based on the last two seasons, they’ll need to be even better in the second half to make the playoffs, as 94 points wasn’t good enough to make the cut the last two years.
2. Opportunity to feast – Only one team has played worse than the Ducks this season and that’s the Blue Jackets. Just how bad? They’ve yet to win two games in a row. They’ve lost eight of nine coming in, pretty much showing the Ducks they mean business when it comes to securing the No. 1 draft pick. The Kings need to oblige with a clear-cut victory against this sub-.300 team, and not let them hang around long enough to steal a victory. It’s an attitude the Kings haven’t used often enough against the league’s weaker crop this season, evident by their 4-4-0 record against teams that currently own a losing record.
3. Finding his shot – The Kings need Mike Richards to start firing on all cylinders again. Since returning from a concussion Dec. 22, he has produced just two goals and an assist in eight games. In the last six, he has just one assist. After the Colorado loss Monday, Sutter talked about players trying to make the perfect cross-ice pass, rather than shoot at the net and force the goalie to make a save. Richards looked liked one of the guilty players against the Avs and made a couple similar decisions against the Coyotes. After taking six shots on goal in a 2-0 win in Chicago on Dec. 28, he has taken just nine shots on net in the last four. During that span, the Kings have scored just six goals.
4. Weekend for Bernier? – Getting Sutter to reveal his goalkeeper plans prior to a game is like trying to get his PIN number. Jonathan Quick is seeing the puck well lately, allowing just two goals in his last four starts, but Sutter made a point Thursday night of saying he needs to be careful with his netminder’s workload. If there was ever a good opportunity to start Jonathan Bernier between the pipes for just the eighth time this season, it would be against the Blue Jackets. As Sutter said, he really can’t go wrong either way.
5. Columbus News – The news just continues to go south for the Blue Jackets. Third-year center Mark Letestu suffered a broken right hand in the loss Thursday in San Jose and will be out for weeks. He had five goals and five assists in 25 games. On Friday, they placed left wing Kristian Huselius on injured reserve and called up a rookie forward Ryan Russell, who will likely make his NHL debut against the Kings. Another rookie forward, Ryan Johansen, committed six minutes worth of high-sticking penalties in the first period against the Sharks.