The Kings are a team not unlike the Capitals. They too entered the 2011-12 season with lofty expectations and were predicted to go far in the postseason, but since all of the preseason posturing, things haven’t gone as smoothly as planned.
Los Angeles enters tonight’s game sitting in ninth place in the jam-packed West with 47 points. The Kings are 5-1-3 under Coach Daryll Sutter, who was hired in late December, and they are trying to string wins together in an effort to move up the standings. That sounds just a tad familiar.
Tonight’s meeting between the two teams should be an interesting test of the Capitals’ focus and discipline. The Kings play a stingy defensive game and are ranked fifth in the league in goals allowed (89), giving up an average of only 2.12 per game. Granted, that stems in part from necessity, as they are ranked last in the league in scoring with only 85 goals (2.02 average per game) themselves.
If given an opportunity, though, Los Angeles can hem an opponent in their own zone effectively. Which means the Capitals can’t afford to have weak clearing attempts and will need to be vigilant about defensive assignments to help prevent being trapped.
“They play a very opportunistic game. They’re not going to give you a lot and then when they get a chance they have the ability to score and they cycle the puck very well. They play a tough, complete team game,” Brooks Laich said. “They’re very strong with the third guy high and a defenseman pinching, which makes it tough to get it out of your zone. As defenders you have to make strong, hard plays. A chip off the glass might not be the fancy play, but it might be the right play. You have to be very strong in your own zone against this team.”
Also keep an eye on the special teams matchups. Tonight’s game will showcase Washington’s sixth-ranked power play (19.7 percent), which has scored 12 times in its last 37 tries as it attempts to crack the King’s penalty kill, which is ranked second in the NHL with a success rate of 88.9 percent. Los Angeles has killed 34 consecutive penalties.
“They’re solid,” Coach Dale Hunter said of the Kings’ penalty kill. “They block a lot of shots, so we’re going to have to move the puck quickly, create scoring chances, get in front of the goalie and even screen him.”