Monday, April 2, 2012
Kings: Oilers present great opportunity for separation
By Dan Arritt
Kings (39-27-13, 91 points) vs. Edmonton Oilers (32-38-9, 73 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
1. Scene setter: As the only Western Conference game on Monday's schedule, Kings' fans can finally stare straight ahead, rather than keep one eye on this game and the other on the out-of-town scoreboard. With three games left for the Kings, a victory against the short-handed Oilers would give them a two-point lead in the Pacific Division, something they haven't won in 21 years, and a four-point advantage over the ninth-place Dallas Stars. A division title would also earn L.A. the No. 3 seeding for the Western Conference playoffs and home ice for the first round. Any type of loss and the Kings will likely need at least one win in the final two games just to secure a postseason berth.
2. Quick ready: The Kings nearly sneaked out of Minnesota with two points Saturday night, but the Wild came back to tie the score midway through the third period and won in a shootout. Kings coach Darryl Sutter elected to give back-up goalie Jonathan Bernier the start against Minnesota and rest Jonathan Quick, who played the night before in Edmonton. Bernier gave up three goals to the league’s lowest-scoring team and didn’t stop a shot in the shootout, again demonstrating the weakest part of his game. Quick has allowed just two goals in his previous three starts, so L.A.’s most valuable player should be rested, ready and sharp for his second meeting against the Oilers in four days.
3. Not gushing shots: The Oilers didn’t seem very willing, or able, to shoot the puck at the net the last two games. They registered 14 shots on goal in the 4-1 loss to the Kings on Friday in Edmonton, the lowest SOG total by an L.A. opponent this season. He then put 15 on net Sunday night in a 2-1 victory in Anaheim. It wouldn't be surprising if the Kings come at the Oilers hard and fast in the first period and try to take away any momentum left over from that victory. Just like lapped traffic in a NASCAR race, the Oilers will probably just pull aside if they fall behind early.
4. Carter concern: The availability of Kings forward Jeff Carter remains the biggest mystery on the eve of the game. Carter injured his ankle Wednesday in Calgary and missed the last two games. The good new is, his replacement, Brad Richardson, scored two goals in the loss Saturday night in Minnesota, and should still have fresh legs after playing just three games in March. Still, a proven finisher like Carter will be missed, especially in a shootout situation like the Kings faced Saturday night. Carter was expected to have additional tests Monday to determine the severity of the injury. Kings' fans are crossing their fingers.
5. Edmonton injuries: One more reason the Oilers are ripe for the taking is the absence of their top defensive pair, Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry. They did not make the trip to Southern California after getting injured in Friday’s loss to the Kings. Smid suffered a neck injury when he was checked by Dustin Brown. Petry went down after he was hit in the face with the puck after Kings center Anze Kopitar bounced a clearing attempt off the glass. The Oilers were already without one of their top offensive threats, Taylor Hall, who was lost for the season last month after undergoing shoulder surgery.