Monday, January 9, 2012
Kings: Back on the griddle vs. Capitals
By Dan Arritt
Kings (20-15-7, 47 points) vs. Washington Capitals (21-16-2, 44 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Block it out: Like a bad home movie, the Kings really need to erase all memory of Saturday night's loss against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets. They were blanked, 1-0, by a team with the worst record in the NHL and no shutouts since February. To further the humiliation, the Ducks scored seven goals Sunday night against the same team, and they have the second-worst record in the NHL. The Kings better hit the button quick because performances like these can send a team spiraling out of playoff contention. Just ask the Ducks.
2. Penner’s no hot cake: There was definitely some chuckling when a report surfaced after Sunday’s practice that oft-injured left wing Dustin Penner said he missed the Columbus game because he began experiencing back spasms while eating his wife’s pancakes. The front office, which is paying Penner $4.25 million this season to score goals, likely didn’t crack a grin. It’s the third time this season that Penner has been sidelined because of injury. Couple that with his paltry offensive stats (two goals, six assists in 30 games) and he’s certainly not having a solid contract year. Penner, who practiced Sunday, needs to show something soon or he’ll likely be pouring his syrup elsewhere by the trade deadline.
3. Backstrom ailing: Bad news from the Washington camp Sunday. Leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom did not practice, apparently still feeling the effects of an elbow to the head from Calgary left wing Rene Bourque midway through the third period of 3-1 victory Tuesday in Washington. Before sitting out Saturday night’s 5-2 loss in San Jose, Backstrom had 15 points in the previous 12 games. Overall, he has 13 goals and a team-leading 29 assists, working as the primary set-up man for two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin (17 goals, 16 assists).
4. First and last: The Kings are the lowest-scoring team in the NHL. And the ice is cold. What isn't so obvious is the Kings are also, by far, the lowest-scoring first-period team, netting just 16 goals in 42 games. The Capitals are 24th out of 30 teams in first-period scoring but they’ve scored nearly twice as many goals in that frame, netting 29 in the opening 20 minutes. Falling behind early hasn’t worked well for the Kings. They’re 6-13-3 when giving up the game’s first goal. After Saturday’s brutal loss, they can’t afford to chase the Capitals.
5. Close calls: The Kings have also been involved in more one-goal games than any team in the NHL, owning a 12-7-7 record in those results. Don’t be surprised if this one ends with such a score. Should the game venture into overtime, the advantage would definitely swing to the Capitals. They were second in the league in overtime wins last season with nine and have a league-leading five this season.