Saturday, February 18, 2012
Kings: Holding off the Calgary stampede
By Dan Arritt
Kings (27-20-11, 65 points) vs. Calgary Flames (27-22-9, 63 points) at Staples Center, 7 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Tick, tick, tick – That sound you hear is the Kings running out of time and excuses. Sure, they played hard Thursday night against the visiting Phoenix Coyotes, fired up another sold-out crowd with a barrage of fisticuffs in the first period and even managed to create some Grade A scoring chances along the way. But the result was similar to so many others this season, a 1-0 loss that left the Kings clinging to the final playoff spot by two points. If they can’t find a way to average three goals a game down the stretch, it's doubtful they'll hold off the pack. And guess which team is currently leading the charge? The Calgary Flames.
2. What’s the problem? – By now, it’s pretty much out there that Kings have the worst offense in the NHL. How did they get here? One possibility could be the departure of Wayne Simmonds, Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus and Alexei Ponikarovsky in the offseason. Especially if you consider Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Dustin Penner and Scott Parse were counted on to fill the voids in their first full seasons with the Kings. Instead, Gagne and Parse are out with long-term injuries, and Penner has been so ineffective he'll likely be a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game.
3. Added concerns – If their precarious hold on the final playoff spot isn’t enough to draw concern, the thought of playing for another team by the end of the month should also weigh on the players’ minds. With some noticeable holes to address on the offensive end, it’s looking like the Kings will make a trade in the coming days, and they might be willing to dangle just about anybody to bring in a player who can put the puck in the net. Though there’s probably little preventing such a move from happening at this point, maybe an offensive outburst against Calgary might delay the search for a game or two.
4. Roster move – The Kings put Trent Hunter on waivers Friday, giving the rest of the league 24 hours to claim the 31-year-old right wing before he becomes eligible to be sent to the AHL. Hunter hasn't played in the minors since 2003. The move was made to clear a roster spot for Jarret Stoll, who’s eligible to come off injured reserve after missing the last three games with a minor hip injury. it's also a good sign for rookie forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, allowing one or both to stick around a few more games while management tries to figure out what to do with their $4.25-million healthy scratch, Mr. Penner.
5. Brother vs. brother Part III – For the third time since he was hired in December, Kings coach Darryl Sutter will be matched against his younger brother, Brent. They split the first two meetings last month, although that seems like a decade ago considering how the stakes have become so much higher lately. The Flames escaped with a 2-1 shootout victory the last time they visited Staples Center on Jan. 19. We'll go on a limb and predict a similar low-scoring game.