Monday, March 26, 2012
Kings: Final seven-game stretch begins in Vancouver
By Dan Arritt
Kings (37-26-12, 86 points) vs. Vancouver Canucks (45-21-9, 99 points) at Rogers Arena, 7 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Groundhog’s Day: Game No. 76 is on the clock and it doesn’t appear much different than Game No. 72, or 74, or probably even No. 82 for that matter. As coach Darryl Sutter said after a 4-2 loss Saturday night against the visiting Bruins, the Kings need to win them all, and they put themselves in this precarious position by not winning enough home games during the first half of the season. As they dangle on the edge of the eighth and final playoff spot, ninth-place San Jose and 10th-place Colorado have the same number of points and, wouldn’t you know it, play each other tonight.
2. Schedule factor: On the plus side for the Kings is the number of games they haven't played. Phoenix is a point ahead in seventh, but the Coyotes have played two more games than the Kings (Phoenix lost Sunday night against the Blues, much to the relief of L.A. and the handful of other Western Conference teams scrambling for the final three playoff spots). Colorado has also played two more games than the Kings. As for the Sharks, they've played the same amount of games, but the Kings have one more regulation victory, the next designated tiebreaker.
3. Turn the page: What’s much simpler is the Kings have no reason not to pick up where they left off before the Boston game. The entered that early evening affair riding a season-long, six-game winning streak and actually played as well as they had in any of their previous victories. They were just bottled up by one of the league’s best goalkeepers, Tim Thomas, who also happened to receive a few fortunate bounces. If rookie defenseman Slava Voynov doesn’t push a rebound into Thomas' pad, rather than the wide-open side of the net, then whiff as the puck skidded across the open goal line in front of his skates, the Kings take a 2-1 lead into the third period. It’s a whole different game in that scenario.
4. Short circuiting: Let’s face it: The Kings' power play has never hummed along this season. The unit has been stuck in the league's bottom third in that category since October. After showing signs of life during the first half of this month, the power play is back to dripping oil again. The Kings have one goal with the man-advantage in their last 18 opportunities, and that came during a stretch of three minor penalties in four minutes by San Jose. They even gave up their second short-handed goal of the season in the loss to Boston. The Kings also failed on all four man-advantage situations against the Bruins, the most power plays without cashing one in since Jan. 7.
5. State of the Cunucks: Vancouver clinched the Northwest Division title Saturday, but still has the No. 1 seed for the Western Conference playoffs within sight. The biggest concern in Vancouver is the health of leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin, who has missed the last three games with a concussion and doesn’t appear close to returning. To their credit, they’ve bounced back to win the last two games, which has indirectly helped the Kings. Their 2-1 victory Thursday against Dallas helped the Kings move atop the Pacific Division for a couple days, and their 3-2 overtime win Saturday against the Avalanche kept the Kings in eighth place. Don't expect the Kings to return any favors tonight.