It's a rare afternoon start for the Predators today in Los Angeles (2 p.m. Central), as they try to keep one step ahead of Calgary and Detroit in the Western Conference playoff race. The Preds have won the first two meetings with the Kings this season, a 3-1 win in L.A. back in November, and a 4-2 victory on home ice earlier this month.
Follow after the jump for a breakdown of today's contest...
Meet the Good Guys
The Predators are in the middle of a dramatic roller-coaster ride that has fans swinging from euphoria to depression on a nightly basis. Having already won two games on this four-game roadie, one would think that things are generally going well. But Thursday's loss in San Jose, with its record-setting third period collapse, still lingers like a bad odor. The team bounced back to win the next night over the Ducks, but we still haven't seen the lock-down team defense that defines desperation hockey. Can the Preds flip that switch, and if so, when will they do it?
On the positive side, Colin Wilson has fit in well on the top line, and the long-awaited #split28 has calmed things down on the back end. David Legwand, however, hasn't scored a goal in over two months, and needs to assert himself in the offensive end.
Bouillon - Klein
Meet the Bad Guys
At 40-22-5, the Kings are one of the most improved teams in the NHL this year. Los Angeles has seen a wealth of young talent coalesce into a well-functioning team seemingly overnight. The big stars are, up front, Anze Kopitar, the Slovenian scoring sensation, and on the blueline, Drew Doughty, the smooth skating phenom who many lauded as Canada's best defenseman at the Olympic Games last month.
Instead of merely hoping to make the playoffs, the Kings are in a neck-and-neck race with Phoenix for home-ice advantage in the first round, and coach Terry Murray has to be given loads of credit for the progress this team has made. They geared up for the postseason by picking up Fredrik Modin and Jeff Halpern at the Trade Deadline, so optimism is the certainly the mood in La-La Land.
Even Strength Play
|Team 5-on-5 data from Behind the Net|
|GP||GF||GA||GF/60||SF/60||SPCT||GA/60||SA/60||SPCT||+/- per 60|
The Kings play a more deliberate brand of 5-on-5 hockey than the Predators do, but the bottom line is that they're tighter defensively. Can Nashville continue to get it done on the power play as they have recently?
|PP %||18.0 (18th)||81.0 (19th)||PK %|
|# of PP's||250 (21st)||247 (19th)||# of PK's|
|PK %||75.9 (28th)||20.3 (6th)||PP %|
|# of PK's||224 (26th)||256 (16th)||# of PP's|
|Advantage: Los Angeles|
The thing to remember with the Kings is that nobody, but nobody, in the NHL draws penalties like L.A. captain Dustin Brown. The previous two seasons I tracked something I like to call Penalty Plus/Minus (a reflection of penalties drawn minus penalties committed), a stat that Brown led the league in both seasons. This year, I defer to Behind the Net to provide fresh data on that front, and Brown is still ahead of the pack by a wide margin.
So keep an eye on Brown, as it is critical for Nashville to stay out of the penalty box today.
Jonathan Quick has enjoyed a breakout season for the Kings, and has answered their long-standing need for quality work in goal:
|2009 - Jonathan Quick||60||3603||37||19||149||2.48||1641||1492||.909||3|
After pitching a shutout at Anaheim Friday night, you can bet your bottom dollar that Pekka Rinne will get the call this afternoon. Can he build on that win and assume command of the Nashville net?
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||45||2448||23||13||112||2.75||1156||1044||.903||4|
Both teams need this one, but the Predators should be the more desperate team. Will that translate into a disciplined, gritty effort against the high-powered Kings?