The Kings had a 4 game win streak snapped last night in Phoenix as the Pacific Division continues to be the toughest in the league this season. Just 7 points divide 1st place Dallas and last place Phoenix. These numbers are even tighter when you consider the difference in games played by each team. Any way you shake it, the Pacific Division remains the tightest in the NHL.
The opposite end of the spectrum happens to be that of the Kings opponent tonight, the Atlantic Division. The Flyers are 2nd in the division to the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers trail the Pens by 4 points, but also hold 3 games at hand. The bottom of the Atlantic Division might as well be at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, housing the Devils and Islanders, undoubtedly the worst teams in the league.
Philly doesn’t like to lose in regulation and with 9 losses are second only to Vancouver in regulation losses. Vancouver has just 8. A lot of credit goes to rookie sensation Sergei Bobrovsky whose stellar numbers have Flyers faithful thinking they may finally have an answer in net. The only team to have as much turnaround in goal as the Flyers in recent years are the Kings. The Flyers have seen Esche, Nittymaki, Emery, Biron, Backlund, Duchesne, Houle, Boucher, Leighton, and now Bob. The Kings have had Aubin, LaBarbera, Cloutier, Quick, Fukufuji, Ersberg, Bernier, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a name or two.
Philly also boasts arguably the deepest offense in the league. Mike Richards and Claude Giroux lead the way with 32 points. Carter, Briere, Leino, and Hartnell all have at least 20 points. The Flyers also rank high in every major team category, yet are slightest below average at the power-play and slightly above average at the penalty kill.
The Flyers will still be without top defenseman and puck stealer extraordinaire Chris Pronger, out with a foot injury.
The Kings had a rough ride in Phoenix last night, but have been playing quite well of late. After a prolonged debacle finding chemistry on the first line, the Kings pair of Kopitar and Brown have exploded over the last half-dozen games. The addition of Marco Sturm is looking good so far, Sturm tallying in his last 2 games for 2 goals and 3 points in 5 games so far. All told, the Kings have 6 players with at least 20 points so far. Drew Doughty, who struggled early, has found his legs and has 18 points and is an impressive plus-15. However, the Kings top offensive defenseman so far is Jack Johnson with 3 goals, 25 points and a strong even rating on the plus/minus scale.
If you look at things, these two teams share a lot of similarities. Deep offense, very strong goaltending, and a top defenseman missing. The Kings are still without Willie Mitchell who has seen just 15 games this season. The pain of missing Mitchell has been buoyed by the Kings young defensemen like Drewiske and Martinez stepping up.
It’s not just the young defense that has stepped up, Kings role players have played a big part as well. Guys like Richardson, Clifford, and Lewis have all stepped up their play and are being trusted to provide energy, physicality, and offense.
Kings guru Rich Hammond has word that Bernier will play against Philly. Bernier struggled early, but has come back with 2 consecutive wins as well as no goals allowed on 13 shots last night.
Puck drops at 7:30 pm PT @ Staples Center. It will be the Kings 4th game in just 5 days.
Schenn a King for Canada:
Many were disappointed that top Kings prospect Brayden Schenn didn’t stick with the squad this season, but you won’t find any of those people on Canada’s WJC team. Brayden has simply owned the tournament so far, scoring 6 goals and 12 points in just 3 games. Schenn leads the tournament in scoring and followed up a 1 goal and 5 point performance against the Czechs with a 4 goal and 5 point performance against Norway. While many saw Schenn’s return to juniors redundant, the experience he’ll gain in a high profile, high intensity tournament like the World Juniors is invaluable to Schenn and will be a boon to the Kings future.
Canada will face a very tough opponent on Friday when they take on Sweden.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney