It seems like we've been saying the Canucks have been in playoff mode for quite some time now but it's safe to say tonight's tilt is about as big as it gets without having that official post-season label. The Canucks, coming off back-to-back wins over some pretty tough Californian opponents including a 2-1 victory over the league-leading Ducks on Monday, have a chance to do a number of teams in the Western Conference a favour if they can knock off the Kings tonight. Los Angeles begins play sitting one point out of a wild card spot and three points behind the Canucks for second place in the Pacific Division.
The Canucks, minus netminder Ryan Miller, held an all hands on deck practice yesterday but that doesn't mean all the injured bodies are set to return. Judging by the session, it appears the only lineup change from Monday will be Ronalds Kenins taking Brandon McMillan's roster spot. Eddie Lack is the expected starter between the pipes as he looks to equal his season-high personal win streak with his third straight victory.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet Pacific, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2014.15 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
The Kings have cooled off a bit since their run of eight straight wins back in February but it seems like they're starting to trend in the right direction again as they have earned points in four straight outings (3-0-1) coming off a stretch of three straight losses. They're also riding a two-game road win streak having knocked off the Oilers and, most recently, the Avalanche in consecutive road outings by identical 5-2 scores. That's significant because the road has not been a kind place for the Kings this season. Aside from a four-game road win streak in February (part of that eight-game overall win streak), the Kings have only strung together back-to-back road wins on two other occasions this season including this most recent streak. The Kings, whose 11 road victories are the second fewest in the Western Conference behind only the Oilers, play 10 of their final 16 games on the road so finding a way to win in enemy territory is going to be critical to their hopes of qualifying for the post-season.
Two of those aforementioned 10 remaining road games, including tonight, will be at Rogers Arena, which was unfortunately much too hospitable back on New Year's Day as the hosts, despite jumping out to a 2-0 lead, allowed the visitors to storm back with three straight goals and leave town with a 3-2 victory. The Kings would love a repeat of that result but not a repeat of that process. They own one of the worst win percentages in the league when surrendering the opening goal (.294) – not a good statistic to have considering they've given up the first goal in more than half of their games played. They'd much rather be following the script from their last two road games which is score early and often. As far as who has done the damage lately, it's two names that will be quite familiar to the Canucks: Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik. Carter has five goals in his last five games while Gaborik has three tallies in his last three outings. Both have a goal and an assist in the season series to date although neither had a point in the last head-to-head meeting back on New Year's Day.
Keys to the Game
Don't be shy to attack. If you don't believe the Canucks are a much different team when they decide to push on offence, you only have to re-watch the third period of Monday's win over Anaheim and see the difference between their play before they gave up the tying goal and after. They need to avoid the temptation of sitting back especially if they have a lead.
Play the game on the ice, not between the ears. It's no secret the Kings have had the Canucks' number in recent meetings but Vancouver can't let the history book weigh them down. The Canucks have to respect the Kings as being a tough team, but one that they can beat.
Quick has his way. The Kings' netminder is 5-1 in his last six starts against the Canucks while stopping 150 of 157 total shots (.955 save percentage). He hasn't exactly been overworked to the bone in the season series facing just 35 total shots but clearly quality trumps quantity.
By the Numbers
Shot differential after two games in the season series (Kings have out-shot Canucks 76 to 35).
Win percentage for the Canucks in their last seven games against the Kings (1-5-1).
Straight games the Canucks have been out-shot by their opponent. (19-12-3 this season when out-shot)
Years since the last time the Canucks had two rookies (Vey, Horvat) with 20-plus points. (2007-08: Mason Raymond, Alex Edler)
Different skaters to record a point for the Kings in the season series. Just seven Canucks have a point to date.
Career game tonight for Dan Hamhuis. Congratulations Hammer!