It’s always a treat when my two favorite teams get together to play a good ol’ fashioned game of hockey. That’s exactly what’s going to happen when the Los Angeles Kings come to town to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday evening. For two teams that don’t see each other often, there is certainly an abundance of storylines to follow prior to puck drop. There’s the rumors heating up regarding Jonathan Bernier, Teddy Purcell taking on his old team and then, most importantly, the two points up for grabs.
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The Los Angeles Kings
The Kings come into Tampa on the third leg of an Eastern road swing. Fighting for playoff positioning, you can bet that the Kings will be ready to go in this one. Currently, Darryl Sutter’s Kings sit two points up on the 8th place Minnesota Wild with one more game played. It’s tough to call a 7th place team a huge disappointment, but the Kings definitely are definitely making a cause for the label.
Consider for a second that the Kings boast names like Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Dustin Penner, Simon Gagne…the list goes on. How on earth does a group with all that talent have such trouble scoring goals? You would be hard pressed to fault the players. Each one of the guys I’ve listed above has proven, at one point or another, that they are more than capable of taking care of offense. Yet, more than half way through the season, the Kings are struggling to score more than one goal per game on many occasions. Here’s a pretty clear cut example of how bad things are down in Los Angeles when it comes to offense (Player, Career High in Goals, On Pace Goals 2011-12):
Anze Kopitar: 34, 24
Drew Doughty: 16, 6
Mike Richards: 31, 23
Dustin Penner: 32, 6
Simon Gagne: 47, 12
Obviously fans, and management, can’t expect players to reach career highs every year (or they wouldn’t be career highs…), but what is outlined above shows just how ridiculous things are getting in Los Angeles. As I said, it’s tough to blame the players as they’ve all proven their worth during NHL careers, so who is to blame? To me, the issues stem from coaching and management. Yes, Terry Murray was fired. The question has to be asked: what exactly did the Kings gain from firing Terry Murray, a defensive specialist, and hiring Darryl Sutter, a defensive specialist? This team needs offense! They have all the tools necessary to be one of the most, if not the most, dominant offensive teams in the league. There’s no reason that Anze Kopitar can’t be a 40+ goal man year in and year out; yet, he’s not going to reach 30. What’s going on?
Based on what’s outlined above, you would think that the Kings would be a long way out of the playoff picture. That’s not the case. As aforementioned, the Kings are currently fighting for one of the bottom few spots in the Western Conference. The ONLY reason they are even fighting for a spot in the post-season is the stellar play of goaltender Jonathan Quick. This guy is perhaps the most underrated goaltender in the league. He consistently turns out all-star-like performances without garnering any attention from the Eastern media; it’s almost sad. If you want to tune into some great goaltending performances, watch Kings games.
The Tampa Bay Lightning
Coming off a huge victory against the Florida Panthers just a couple days ago, the Lightning are flying high. After a dismal start to the 2011-12 season, the Bolts are finally starting to put together consistent efforts and great performances from top to bottom. Led by Marty St. Louis’ hattrick in his 900th career game, the Bolts managed to absolutely dominate the SE Division leading Panthers. To beat the Kings, the Lightning are going to need to play another work-man-like style game that is hard hitting, fast and tenacious on the fore-check. As said, the Kings have tons of problems scoring goals but they are content to play a defensive game all night long.
When it comes down to it, things are working out well for the Lightning right now. They are getting help in the standings from other teams (we’ll get to that in a minute), strong goaltending from Mathieu Garon, great leadership from Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stammer, and solid offensive contributions up and down the line-up.
Speaking of offensive contributions through the line-up; look for Teddy Purcell to have a big night against his former team. In Los Angeles, Teddy was never really given a shot to produce offense. He was lined up with players who struggled offensively and the coaching staff really didn’t show any confidence in him. Fast forward a couple years in Tampa and Teddy has established himself as one of the better depth scorers in the league. He’s not going to pot 50 goals, but his contributions should not be underestimated; he seems to have a knack for scoring big goals at the right time. He could be a game breaker in this Kings game.
Another storyline that will be interesting to watch is the goaltending match-up. Nothing has been announced yet, but if I were a betting man there wouldn’t be a reason not to go with Garon. He has played well over this last little stretch and he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. On the Los Angeles end of things, it will be interesting to see who is dressed as the starter. Will it be Jonathan Quick, or Jonathan Bernier? If the Kings are truly interested in two points, the obvious answer would be Quick. However, if the Kings are interested in showcasing Bernier to the Lightning (who reportedly have strong interest), then he should be the one to start. Perhaps Yzerman sees something he likes, and makes an offer to keep Bernier in Tampa after Tuesday’s game. A tandem of Garon and Bernier down the stretch sounds pretty darn good to me. A fan can dream.
This week is going to prove pivotal in the Lightning’s quest for a playoff berth. Will they be buyers or sellers at the deadline? Steve Yzerman believes that this week is a tell-all kind of moment. He was quoted when asked by the Times about what he sees going on with the Bolts at the deadline:
"Depending on how many points we get out of it and we see what else happens around the league, we'll get a better indication," (The Fourth Period)
With that quote, it almost seems as though Yzerman sees that this year could actually turn into something. It’s like he’s changed his attitude towards the year in a very short period of time. When it comes down to it, he knows what is best for this hockey club and he is going to do his best to make the Lightning a playoff contender not just today, but for years down the road. However, it would be silly to just ignore today if it could turn into something.
As it sits right now, the Lightning are getting A LOT of help in the standings. Teams ahead of them are losing giving the Bolts a chance to make up valuable points by virtue of games in hand. Think, the Jets who currently sit above the Lightning by a three point margin have played three more games than our Bolts. While being in 11th isn’t the best position to be in, things aren’t too bad right now.
Anyways, thanks so much for reading this blog. As I said, this is a very special game for me with both my teams playing for two points; but rest assured that my allegiance lies with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hopefully we walk out of the TBTF two points closer to a playoff spot after tomorrow’s tilt. Enjoy your Monday folks and let’s go Bolts!
Follow me on Twitter: @TBLHockeyBuzz
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