Los Angeles Kings
Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. at Staples Center
While the Los Angeles Kings may be facing a rebuild, big name players such as Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and goalie Jonathan Quick among others still remain from the Stanley Cup wins earlier in the decade. This season has begun in a bit of an up and down fashion as the Kings have started off 2-3. The clear issue early in the season has been goal prevention, as they have struggled mightily in keeping the puck out of their own net. Having given up a combined 26 goals in just five games, the Kings are fortunate to be 2-3 at this point, and will need to clean up the play in their own end in order to remain even remotely competitive.
Offensively, the Kings are off to a relatively hot start. After slumping terribly on offense last year to the tune of 30th in goals for, the Kings already have seven multi-goal scorers. New coach Todd McLellan remains within the Pacific Division, and is attempting to bring a more offensive brand of play to Staples Center. Clearly, the transition from old guard to new guard, and defensive to offensive will have its growing pains. The Kings have been able to manage two or more goals in each contest thus far as well. If they are to keep it going however, they will have to maintain a robust 10.7% shooting percentage, which suggests that some of the early offense is a mirage rather than a sustainable feat.
If the Hurricanes are to get their western road trip off on the right foot, they will need to make sure they continue to pepper either Quick or Jack Campbell with shots, as they have each struggled. The former Jennings and Conn Smythe award winner Quick has allowed an NHL-leading 19 goals himself, posting a remarkably low .793 save percentage in just three performances. While the Kings do have enough talent to challenge the Canes if Carolina does not come ready to play, if the visitors are able to apply pressure early and often they should be able to take care of business in the first game of a back to back.
San Jose Sharks
Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. at SAP Center
The Sharks appear to have steadied themselves after a rather disastrous beginning. Losing four consecutive contests to start the season, they have rebounded with consecutive victories.
Similar to the Kings, the issues for the Sharks early have been in attempting to keep the puck out of their own net. Until Sunday’s 3-1 win against the Flames, San Jose had given up four or more goals in each of their first five games. Both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have had similar results in net in splitting the time thus far.
Where the Sharks have awoken in the past few games is offensively. They have produced eight goals in the last two games, with mainstays Logan Couture and Brent Burns leading the way. While the Sharks most heralded move of the offseason was the extension for all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson, the most shocking loss was veteran team leader Joe Pavelski. The Sharks will look to fill his scoring and leadership void by bringing former Shark (and Canes legend) Patrick Marleau back into the fold. In his two games with the Sharks, he has provided a significant spark with three points (two goals, one assist). It is unrealistic to expect the 40-year-old to provide all of the lost production, but his return has filled at least some of the leadership that has been lost with Pavelski moving on to Dallas.
The Canes can expect to have their hands full in the second of a back to back in San Jose. If Carolina hopes to compete as well as they have become accustomed to doing in the back to back, they will have to maintain high energy despite not being the fresher team. Nevertheless, if they can put together a solid effort in the South Bay, they can provide further prove that they are real contenders as the young season rolls on.
Friday, 10:00 p.m. at Honda Center
While the Hurricanes were getting off to the fastest start in the Eastern Conference, the Anaheim Ducks (as well as the Edmonton Oilers) were getting off to a similarly solid start out west. Although they fell on Monday afternoon to the Bruins in Boston, the Ducks have begun the year at 4-2, including a four-game eastern road trip to date. For new coach Dallas Eakins, the start was just the thing that was needed for a team expected to be in transition as the season approached.
The Ducks’ solid start can be attributed to the man who is probably their best overall player, goalie John Gibson. Prior to his efforts in the 4-2 loss in Boston, Gibson had gone 3-1 with a microscopic 1.26 goals against average and a .961 save percentage. While the Ducks rebuild has begun with younger forwards such as Ondrej Kase and Rickard Rakell now being asked to carry significant roles, the true piece that can catapult the Ducks back into being a competitive team most quickly is Gibson.
As mentioned, the younger faces in the regular lineup is starting to come forward slowly, but thus far this season, the Ducks are sticking with a defensive approach that had allowed them to stay in every game they have played. Other than the Bruins’ four goals on Monday, neither team in the Ducks prior five games had topped three goals total.
Scoring early and dictating the style of play by making this Ducks team play from behind will certainly be an important part of any plan to finish the west coast portion of this road trip in a positive manner. If the Canes can use their speed and depth to force the Ducks to have to create chances and generate offense, the Canes should be in good shape.