4:00 PST, Fox Sports West
The Kings are the early surprise of the NHL season, recovering from a disastrous home opener to win their next 4 games in a row. The only team with a better start? Why, tonight's opponent, the New York Rangers, who have jumped to a 5-1 record. The two teams are on a combined 9-game winning streak and one team's streak is going to end tonight. The Rangers are averaging 4 goals a game, the Kings 3.8; the Rangers are allowing only 2 goals a game, the Kings 3 (although they've allowed 5 in 3 games since Sean O'Donnell came back). The Rangers have been led by their top line of Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik, much like the Kings' top line of Smyth-Kopitar-Williams has led the Kings. It should be interesting today, as the Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik line will be checked by Fro-Hand-Meat while Smyth-Kopitar-Williams will likely get a heavy dose of Higgins-Drury-Callahan. I think those lines will end up cancelling each other out and the winner of this game will be decided by the third lines: Purcell-Stoll-Brown vs. Avery-Anisimov-Lisin. This should be fun to watch.
The Kings have an important two games coming up: tonight against the Rangers and then tomorrow against a struggling (for them) but still dangerous Detroit Red Wings team. This will be an early litmus test for the Kings: are they a legitimate team or just off to a fluke start? Taking one of these two games and putting in a solid showing in both should go a long way in showing the rest of the league that they're for real.
Who is the Kings' #1 defenseman? Most would reflexively say Drew Doughty, but I'm not so sure anymore. He was, at the beginning of the season, but the failures of Davis Drewiske on the penalty kill have thrust Jack Johnson into the team lead in time on ice the past couple games. Doughty and O'Donnell usually play with Fro-Hand-Meat and are handed the toughest assignments, while Johnson-Scuderi usually play with Kopitar's line and get more even-strength ice time. Doughty gets more power play time than Johnson, but Johnson usually skates with Rob Scuderi on the 2nd penalty kill unit while Doughty gets limited time when one of the regular penalty killers takes a penalty... OK, he gets extensive time because one of our penalty killers are always in the box. In the end, it doesn't really matter; if Doughty and Johnson push each other all year and play 23+ minutes a night, I don't care if they're referred to as the 5th, 6th or 9th defensemen. I just thought it was interesting. You know what else is interesting? Not me.
(At the end of the Islanders game on Monday Rob Scuderi took a tripping penalty. The penalty killers? Doughty and Johnson. That warmed the cockles of my heart.)
Erik Ersberg gets the start tonight in place of Jonathan Quick. Ersberg hasn't played yet this season; he's mostly kept busy by perfecting his bored back-up goaltender face. (Imagine a cow but with wide eyes.) I wasn't too impressed with him in training camp and still think he's mostly up because the Kings don't care about his development, but now that's he's getting in a game I hope the Kings can give him a lot of support. He's going to need it against Marian Gaborik.
Prediction: Kings win, 3-2. Goals by Brown (x2) and Drewiske. Wayne Simmonds fights Sean Avery and cements his status as every Kings fan's favorite player.