The Los Angeles Kings return to action this evening following the NHL All-Star break to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is the second meeting between the two teams, and the previous tilt occurred just over two weeks ago, where the Lightning came back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 deficit to win 4-3 in the shootout.
Home is Where the Heart is
The hosting Kings fare considerably better at home than on the road, sporting an 11-10-1 record at Staples Center. However, they are just 2-7-1 in their last 10 games overall, and limped into the break with a four-game losing streak. While they are expected to have gritty youngster Blake Lizotte and sniper Matt Luff back, they are questionable to have Drew Doughty, who was recently selected to the NHL’s All-Decade First Team. The uncertainty of their top defenseman proves worrisome, as they have been a middle-of-the-pack team defensively with him. They still have captain Anze Kopitar leading the way with 43 points (17 G, 26 A) through 50 games. Dustin Brown has seemingly fully recovered from his pneumonia in December, which should provide more power up front.
After a comparable mediocre start to the returning President Trophy winners last year, the Lightning seem to be regaining form with a record of 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. They want to prove last season’s first round sweep by the Columbus Blue Jackets was a fluke, and they’ll need to rack up more wins to secure a spot in this year’s playoff picture. They currently sit second in the Atlantic Division, yet they are just three points away from being on the outside looking in. They lean heavily on star power, which they have in all positions. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos lead the Lightning with 56 points (22 G, 34 A) and 50 points (20 G, 30 A) respectively, both scoring at over a point-per-game clip. However, they also have Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy returning from representing the team at the all-star competition in St. Louis. They lost to Dallas in overtime on Monday and will be looking to redeem themselves.
Going Into Tonight
Tampa Bay’s numbers from individual players speak for themselves. They have two forwards scoring at over a point-per-game pace who didn’t even make the All-Star team. Their goaltending and defense are top-10 in the league and hard to break through. Without Doughty, Sean Walker is the highest scoring defenseman on the Kings with 19 points (4 G, 15 A). Tampa Bay has three defensemen passing that mark, not to mention Hedman being one point behind Kings’ leading scorer Kopitar.
The Kings put up a good fight on January 14. However, they are just one foot out of the basement, sitting 30th in the league. Tampa Bay is just as good on the road as they are at home, and their 14-8-3 record has the odds favoring Tampa Bay.
The scale might tilt more evenly if there was a greater certainty with Doughty, who currently sports the Kings’ ironman streak. However, there’s too much firepower to be missing a key cog in defense.