The Washington Capitals will try to salvage a split of their two-game west coast trip on Monday when they visit the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. If San Jose is not a city in which the Caps have found much success over the years, Los Angeles is not much more hospitable. The Caps will bring a 15-29-6-0 record in games played in Los Angeles into this game.
Much was expected of the Kings this season. With the best goalie that no one knows about in Jonathan Quick and the best center that no one knows about in Anze Kopitar, the Kings were already a formidable team. But adding Mike Richards via trade and Simon Gagne as a free agent (he will miss this game to injury) added more forward depth to a team that could boast of a deep defense with Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Willie Mitchell, and Rob Scuderi. On paper, this was a team in position to challenge for a deep playoff run.
It even looked good early with the Kings running out to a 5-1-1 record in their first seven games. It looked better when in that seventh game goalie Jonathan Quick recorded his third consecutive shutout to go 5-0-1, .081, .972.
But the Kings flattened out, going 9-12-3 in their next 24 games and seeing coach Terry Murray relieved of his duties in the process in favor of Darryl Sutter. That slump led up to what might be their low point of the season thus far, an 8-2 drubbing at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings that dropped the Kings back to .500 at 14-14-4 on December 17th, settling into 11th place in the Western Conference. Quick lasted less than nine minutes in that game, allowing three goals on seven shots.
Since that low point the Kings have righted their ship, going 6-1-3 in their last ten games since the Detroit debacle. Here is how the teams stack up against one another so far:
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These are the profiles of teams that have disappointed so far, the Caps struggling to find any momentum after a hot start, the Kings looking to find anything resembling an offensive game.
2. The Kings have had an experience very much like that of the Caps in this respect. Since going 5-1-1 to start the season, ending with a four-game winning streak, the Kings have only one instance in which they won more than two games consecutively (a three-game streak, November 12-17). The Kings also have been involved in the most one-goal decisions (26), winning 12 of them (12-7-7).
3. The Kings have fewer 5-on-5 goals than any team in the league; only two teams have fewer 5-on-4 goals. They do not come by their low offensive ranking by accident. Since Darryl Sutter took over, the Kings might be 5-1-3, but only twice have the Kings scored more than two goals in those nine games. They come into this game having scored only two goals combined in their last three games, only one in regulation time.
4. Of the 85 goals scored by the Kings thus far, 21 have come from the defense. All eight defensemen having dressed for the Kings this season have scored at least one goal. Four of them have power play goals. By way of comparison, defensemen have scored 18 goals for the Caps, and three have at least one power play goal.
5. Three is the magic number for the Kings, and not entirely in a good way. They are 4-11-3 when allowing three or more goals, 16-4-4 when they allow fewer than three goals. On the other hand, Los Angeles is undefeated when they score three or more goals, not including trick shots (10-0-0).
2. No Cap has scored more goals against Los Angeles than the six scored by Jason Chimera. However, none of those have come as a member of the Caps.
3. Will the Caps turn to Michal Neuvirth in this one? Consider that Tomas Vokoun is 4-11-2, 2.89, .904 in 19 career appearances, and it isn’t unreasonable. Neuvirth has one career appearance against Los Angeles (0-1-0, 2.03, .895)
4. Although the teams have played only 99 games against one another in their respective histories, 12 of the games featured hat tricks. Washington has three of the hat tricks, the Kings have ten (one game – St. Patrick’s Day, 1987 – featured hat tricks by each team, one by Greg Adams for the Caps and one by Bernie Nicholls by the Kings in a 5-4 Kings win in Washington).
5. After 39 games last season the Caps were 22-12-5 (49 points). At the 39-game mark this season they are 21-16-2 (44 points). The difference is largely the product of last year’s team to get games to extra time to earn an extra standings point (and of those five extra time losses by this time last season, three came via the Gimmick).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick
Here is your Jonathan Quick number to take away – 18. The King’s netminder has not allowed a power play goal in 18 consecutive games after allowing at least one in 10 of his first 17 appearances. He also has allowed fewer than two goals in six of his last seven appearances (4-1-2, 0.98, .963, two shutouts). His six shutouts leads the league. It is not just that he is among the league leaders in just about every goaltending category, but he has significantly better numbers than his backup, Jonathan Bernier (2-4-1, 2.82, .893). Remember than when folks talk about Tim Thomas in Boston, who has Tuukka Rask to shoulder a good portion of the burden. He is 2-0-0, 2.50, .931 against the Caps in his career.
Washington: Brooks Laich
Laich was not particularly effective in manning the pivot on the top line against San Jose. In fact he has struggled lately, whatever line he has been playing. He is without a point in his last six games and is a minus-3. He is only 1-1-2, minus-2, in his last 11 games, his one goal coming on 29 shots on goal. He has had uneven career results against the Kings: 2-1-3, minus-3, in six career games. He has only one goal in 13 games against Western Conference teams so far this season. It was a game-winner against Phoenix on November 21st. He does not yet have a road point against a Western Conference team this season.
1. Score first. It goes without saying that getting a lead is of paramount importance if teams want to be successful in the NHL. However, only six teams have a wider disparity in winning percentage between that when they score first and that when they allow the first goal than the Kings.
2. Shoot the #@$% puck! As talented as Quick is, he is only 3-2-3 in games in which he faced 35 or more shots this season.
3. Be irresistible. Special teams will be the irresistible force (the Caps power play, 7-for-18 over their last eight games) versus the impenetrable object (the Kings’ penalty kill, 33-for-33 over their last ten games). If the Caps are irresistible, they probably win this game.
In the end, the Kings have the ability to frustrate the Capitals. Whether the Capitals can be patient and trust their team and systems approach, avoiding the free-lancing that individuals trying to go too much one-on-one, will be what could decide this game. But while the Caps have their work cut out for them at one end, they cannot allow the Kings the easy goal. Given the Kings’ consistency in holding opponents to low goal totals, a fluke or a soft goal at the Caps' end could very well be fatal in this game. This contest is likely to be played on a very narrow margin. The Kings have not allowed three goals in a loss since that drubbing they suffered in Detroit three weeks ago. We think that will change.
Capitals 3 – Kings 2