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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Kings, Blues, and Panthers

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The Canes entertain two Western Conference foes before returning to South Florida for the second and final time this season.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Kings

Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Kings will limp into PNC Arena on Tuesday following a draining day on Monday that included the anxiety that comes with being on a losing team as the deadline approaches and players seem capable of leaving in bulk, as well as a devastating 4-3 shootout defeat to the league’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. On the back end of a back-to-back, the Kings must muster the energy to compete again on Tuesday, and for the Carolina Hurricanes, a golden opportunity to add another two points to their total awaits.

Mired in an eight game winless streak now (0-5-3), the Kings are in the midst of a three games in four days stretch that will see them face-off in Tampa and Raleigh before finally returning home to Los Angeles. And while the actual deadline day only saw the shipping off of Oscar Fantenberg to Calgary, the losses of Jake Muzzin, Nate Thompson, Carl Hagelin, and Tanner Pearson earlier this season have left the Kings searching for lineup options on a nightly basis. While their top line and pairing is still potent, the overall depth that led the Kings to two Stanley Cups in three years just a short time ago has disappeared.

Veteran Anze Kopitar has continued his terrific play, although his offensive output this season (44 points in 61 games) could end up being the lowest of his 13-year career. Goal-scoring in general has plagued the Kings all season, as they rate 30th in the league in offense as a team. Drew Doughty continues to be one of the best two-way defensemen in the league but even his goal-scoring has taken a dip, as he has potted only five goals in 62 games played. The offseason addition of Ilya Kovalchuk in his return from the KHL has not provided the needed infusion of scoring and danger on the power play. Kovalchuk has only produced 28 points, and has netted only four power play tallies on the season.

Lastly, the play in net has left plenty to be desired, and with Jonathan Quick continuing to be plagued by injuries and less than stellar play, the Kings are currently having to decide if a move must be made with one of their iconic stars of the Cup run. Quick has started 32 games, but his .896 save percentage and 3.18 goals against rate lowest on the team, with 27-year-old Jack Campbell covering 19 starts with a .925 save percentage. Will the Kings be able to find a suitor to take on Quick if they search for one in the offseason?

As for Tuesday night, all signs point to this being a perfect spot for the Canes to flex their muscles and continue to strengthen their grip on a playoff spot, tenuous as it is. But be careful, as a team with veterans such as the Kings can be dangerous in a spot like this. Getting off to a strong start, and perhaps dissuading the Kings from fully engaging in the final game of this road trip would be a big boost as the Canes look to avoid any traps the rest of the season.

What to Watch For

  • Alec Martinez is expected to miss tonight’s action again, leaving the Kings fairly thin on defense. Look for the Canes to push pucks deep, particularly on the bottom defensive pairs, as they attempt to apply pressure to the greener defense of LA. Can they get scoring opportunities with this simple approach?
  • Who will be in net? You would expect Quick for LA, as Campbell played last night in Tampa. Will Carolina will counter with Petr Mrazek.

St. Louis Blues

Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hottest teams in the NHL since the new year, the St. Louis Blues have vaulted themselves into a playoff spot in the Western Conference, mainly on the back of a recent 11-game winning streak. Much of that success can be placed on the back of netminder Jordan Binnington, who has gone 14-2-1 in 2019, and for the season sports a tidy .934 save percentage and 1.70 goals against average.

In their 11-game streak, the Blues pitched four shutouts, and yielded three goals or more only twice. While their Central Division foes in Winnipeg and Nashville participated in what amounted to an arms race at the deadline, the Blues stayed put with their roster. But if they can continue to dictate the action and enforce their tight, close-checking style as the playoffs roll around, they will be a frustrating and tough out for the favored teams in their divisional draw.

Offensively, the biggest story in St. Louis has been the true emergence of Ryan O’Reilly. He has blossomed in his first season in St. Louis, sitting just one point shy of his career high with 20 games remaining at 63 points. His star-worthy performance as the top line center for the Blues has provided Vladimir Tarasenko with the offensive threat to partner up with that makes the Blues top line one of the most dynamic in the league.

The Blues are not without injuries at this juncture, as second line center Brayden Schenn is recovering from an upper-body injury and is not slated to return until March. His offensive production had been solid in his first season in St. Louis, and with his second line running mate David Perron also out for an unknown period, the lineup could be thinning out as the Blues attempt to make a stretch run for playoff positioning.

Friday will be the front end of a back-to-back for both the Blues and Canes. With the second contest for St. Louis coming against Central Division foe and playoff contenders in the Dallas Stars, expect Binnington to be pushed to Saturday, and for the Canes to get a crack at Jake Allen. Allen has had a roller coaster season to date, but he was previously counted on to be the man in net. We will see what the Blues decide to do.

What to Watch For

  • Controlling the top line of O’Reilly, Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz will be a must, as Carolina can expect fewer scoring chances of their own. Will the Canes look to place the returning Jordan Staal into this matchup on home ice?
  • Both teams hover around the middle of the pack on special teams. Whichever team can execute and finish with a net positive in this area will have a major advantage.

Florida Panthers

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at BB&T Center

NHL: Florida Panthers at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricanes will make a return to the BB&T Center a little more than a week after they prevailed 4-3 in their past trip. As such, check out last week’s version of this same article for a deeper look at their roster. While the Panthers remain on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff race, they are more than capable of playing the role of spoiler with their talented group.

The trade deadline came and went with the Panthers avoiding making any additional large moves. They did offload the recently acquired Derick Brassard, who coincidentally was sent to the Avalanche and scored a goal against the Panthers on Monday night in their matchup in Denver. The Panthers did not add any pieces, but their current crop of young forwards still provide plenty of ammunition to strike fear in their opponents. Aleksander Barkov (65 points) and Jonathan Huberdeau (60 points) have been as dangerous as any top line in the league along with the high-energy - and newly re-signed - Frank Vatrano. On the second line, Mike Hoffman has netted 27 goals to lead the team, and Evgenii Dadonov is a dangerous playmaker alongside Hoffman, which was very clear in Dadonov’s terrific performance against Carolina last week.

For the Canes to come out of South Florida with their second win in as many weeks, they will have to be very sharp. Can they provide that effort on the second of a back-to-back, with Florida having an off day prior?

What to Watch For

  • We saw last week how dangerous the Panthers are on the man advantage. At 3rd in the league (26.29%), they netted two goals against the Canes’ top-10 penalty kill. Staying out of the box will be crucial to the Canes success.
  • Justin Williams played perhaps his best game as a Hurricane the second time around last week in Florida. Can he repeat that performance, minus the puck to the face?