The NHL playoffs don't officially get underway until a week from Wednesday but tonight's game will have all the feel of a post-season affair not just in terms of intensity but importance as well. The Canucks, after suffering back-to-back regulation losses to conclude their recent four-game road trip, begin today just three points ahead of the Kings in the race for second place in the Pacific Division. A regulation loss by Vancouver would leave them just one point up on Los Angeles but no longer in control of their own destiny as far as securing home-ice advantage in the opening round is concerned with just two games remaining on the schedule. The Kings have three games remaining after today.
The Canucks had a couple of notable absences at yesterday's practice, namely defenceman Luca Sbisa and goaltender Eddie Lack. Both, however, are expected to be ready to go for tonight's critical contest. Although it's most likely an afterthought in the minds of the players by now, tonight marks the first time the Canucks will face the Kings since Tyler Toffoli's boarding incident involving Alex Burrows that earned the Kings forward a five-minute major and game misconduct but not any supplemental discipline from the NHL.
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
When the Kings suffered back-to-back regulation losses to the Wild and Blackhawks recently, it seemed like the defending Stanley Cup champs had finally run out of steam in their pursuit of a playoff position. But, since then, they've bounced back with back-to-back wins in convincing fashion demonstrating just why almost everybody outside of fans in Los Angeles are dearly hoping the Kings don't find a way to creep into the post-season picture. They absolutely pummeled the Oilers on Thursday winning 8-2 in a game that Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle described as an NHL team beating up on a junior team. In their last outing on Saturday against the Avs, despite a much closer 3-1 scoreline, the game was dominated by Los Angeles who held their opponents to just 10 shots and controlled the puck for most of the contest.
The Canucks certainly know what it's like to face the Kings when they're at their best. In the first three games of the season series, Los Angeles was dominant out-scoring Vancouver by a combined 12-3 while out-shooting them by a combined 96-54. The Canucks, however, turned the tables in the last meeting out-shooting the Kings 42-26 in a 4-1 win. Including that game versus Vancouver, Los Angeles has only surrendered 40-or-more shots eight times this season going 3-2-3 in those outings. The Canucks would be wise to try and play keep away with the Kings and put as many pucks on net as possible. They should also do what they can to goad the Kings into penalties. Los Angeles has done a pretty good job in recent games of staying out of the sin bin but when they have taken penalties they've been getting burned. They've allowed four power play goals on just 10 times shorthanded over their past five outings.
Keys to the Game
Eddie makes amends. Eddie Lack would be the first to admit that his performance on Saturday in Winnipeg was not at the level he's come to expect from himself. He'll have to be much sharper tonight and turn in a performance similar to the one he had 16 days ago when he was instrumental in helping his team knock off the Kings for the first time this season.
Win those faceoffs. The Canucks not only spent all of Saturday afternoon chasing the Jets on the scoreboard but around the ice too. They probably wouldn't have had to do that had they won more than just 36 percent of the draws. It won't be easy going up against one of the better faceoff teams tonight but Vancouver has to find a way to be better in the dot.
Come out storming. The Canucks have a bad habit of starting a step behind their opponents lately and the Kings will want to take advantage of that by being physical early, forechecking and forcing turnovers, and testing Lack as much as possible.
By the Numbers
Points in five games for LA's Mike Richards since his AHL recall. He has been scratched in two straight.
Eddie Lack's save percentage in his last three starts (12 goals allowed on 112 shots). His season average is .917.
Assist needed by Henrik Sedin to reach 700. He will be the 52nd player in NHL history (4th Swede) to reach that feat.
Points (2-2-4) for Radim Vrbata against the Kings this season, leading all Canucks.
Straight games the Canucks have lost the faceoff battle.
New jersey number Sven Baertschi. He wore No. 42 in his Canuck debut on Saturday.