Kings look to start new surge as Wild come calling
Monday, 12.28.2009 / 7:30 PMWILD (19-16-3) at KINGS (22-13-3)
Minnesota 6-4-0; Los Angeles 6-3-1
Second of four meetings this season -- the teams play again in Minnesota on New Year's Eve. Ryan Smyth scored a pair of goals as Los Angeles claimed a 6-3 win at the Staples Center on Oct. 8. That was part of a stretch in which the Wild lost their first eight road games to begin the season.
The Kings have not won a game in nearly two weeks. It's not as bad as it sounds -- they had eight days off between losses in Calgary and Phoenix, but with those defeats and all that time off, they slipped from first in the Pacific Division to third. They also had to deal with an injury to a key player just as another returned to the lineup. Smyth came back against the Coyotes, his first game since mid-November, but Justin Williams
broke his leg early in the game and will be sidelined indefinitely.
While it took longer than first-year coach Todd Richards probably would have liked for Minnesota to get rolling, a win over the Islanders on Nov. 20 has sparked a stretch of 12 wins in 17 games. The Wild have even turned things around away from the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center, taking five of their last eight on the road. They've already set a franchise record for wins in December with nine, and are one from tying the single-month record of 10 wins set in March 2007.
"We're not the most skilled team in the League, but we want to be the hardest-working team," goaltender Niklas Backstrom
Starting play Monday, Los Angeles trailed San Jose by six points and Phoenix by three in the division standings. Dustin Brown
opened the scoring and Michal Handzus had the game-tying goal early in the third period Saturday, but Keith Yandle scored with 10:40 remaining to deal the Kings a 3-2 defeat.
"Machines can break down, probably more, because of rust than use," coach Terry Murray said. "I wouldn't say that we were rusty, but eight days between games is a long time. On the other side of it, we used it, I think, the right way. Now we have to get games under our belt to get the timing back and do the right things."
Who's hot: Guillaume Latendresse
had two goals, including the game-winner, against the Blues. He has six goals in 13 games with the Wild after scoring just twice in 23 games for the Canadiens prior to a trade in late November.
"I didn't have a lot of ice time (in Montreal). I was a third-line or fourth-line player playing maybe 10 minutes a game. I was averaging 15 goals a year," he said. "Here I get the opportunity to play with some great players. I get a lot of ice time, so I'm happy to have the opportunity to produce."
Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns and forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard
and Petr Sykora are on injured reserve with concussions. Forward Robbie Earl is out due to flu-like symptoms, and forward Chuck Kobasew has a knee injury.
For Los Angeles, Williams is scheduled to see a doctor Monday, at which point a timeline for his injury could be known. Forward Jarret Stoll
, on injured reserve with a groin injury, could start skating soon. Defenseman Randy Jones hasn't played since Dec. 15 due to a neck injury.
Backstrom has posted six wins and a 1.87 goals-against average in his last eight games. But he's fared poorly in his recent history against the Kings, going 0-2-1 with a 3.10 GAA in his last four meetings, including a game in which he was pulled and ultimately didn't get a decision.
The broken leg continues a career full of bad luck for Williams, who has also torn knee ligaments on two separate occasions, torn an Achilles tendon and broken both his hand and wrist during a nine-year career also spent with Philadelphia and Carolina.