KINGS (18-12-8) at CANUCKS (21-11-3)
TV: SN, FS-W
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks have started to turn around a poor record against teams from California, but the reversal won't be complete until they finally solve the Los Angeles Kings.
Vancouver was 2-9-3 against the three California teams last season, a big reason they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
The Canucks already exceeded that point total against those teams this season at 3-1-2, including an overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks and a win over the San Jose Sharks on a road trip to start this week.
But the lone regulation loss was a 5-1 defeat in Los Angeles, and the Kings, who trail the Canucks by one point in the Pacific Division, have won five of the past six meetings.
"If you want to be in the playoffs now, especially with the new format, you have to beat those teams and they are three of the best teams in the NHL," forward Alexandre Burrows said. "You have to be .500 or better if you want to get in. We've done some good things, skated with the Sharks, beat Anaheim earlier in the year and now we have to beat these guys. They've had our number the last couple years."
That includes the Kings eliminating the Canucks in five games in the first round of the playoffs en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2012.
Los Angeles won the first four meetings last season, including twice in early January to start Vancouver’s second half collapse. The Canucks won the final meeting on Apr. 5, but were defeated in their first meeting this season on Nov. 8, even though the Kings only played with five defensemen.
"The game this year was one of our low points for the year," Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "These guys are the one team where we really want to establish ourselves. The first game of the season wasn’t good enough, but tonight will be a different story."
It should help that the Kings are travelling. Los Angeles has lost five straight on the road after starting a three-game road trip with a 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames and a 3-2 shootout loss against the Edmonton Oilers. The Kings are 4-8-6 on the road this season.
"That would surprise me quite a bit." Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said of the Kings' road woes. "Sometimes you have funny streaks in a year that don't make any sense and I would say that's one of those."
The Kings players know it needs to change.
"It’s one of those things we’re not proud of," forward Jarret Stoll said. "If we don't improve that we probably won’t make the playoffs. We have to battle. We have to be harder. We have to be more gritty."
Coach Darryl Sutter pointed to the six overtime and shootout losses as a big part of the Kings poor road record, but they have also missed suspended defenseman Slava Voynov since October.
"Our record is also a little bit reflective home and road because there is a little match up going on and we've had some issues on the back end from last year," Sutter said.
Poor starts have also played a role on the road, Stoll said. The Kings have trailed at some point in 15 of their 18 road games.
"On the road it's seem like we’ve been down one or two-nothing in first period and it’s tough to come back in this League," Stoll said.
"We have done it before but this is a new year. We can't talk about last year. We can't talk about the last three years. We have a different team, there are some different guys in here and it's basically enough of that talk about the last three years, we have to start winning."
Here are the projected lineups:
Marian Gaborik - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Tanner Pearson - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli
Dustin Brown - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Mike Richards - Dwight King
Jake Muzzin - Drew Doughty
Brayden McNabb - Matt Greene
Jeff Schultz - Alec Martinez
Scratched: Jordan Nolan, Andy Andreoff, Jamie McBain
Injured: Robyn Regehr (upper body)
Suspended: Slava Voynov
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins - Nick Bonino - Jannik Hansen
Shawn Matthias - Brad Richardson - Linden Vey
Alexandre Burrows - Bo Horvat - Derek Dorsett
Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev
Ryan Stanton – Kevin Bieksa
Luca Sbisa - Yannick Weber
Scratched: Zack Kassian, Bobby Sanguinetti, Tom Sestito
Injured: Dan Hamhuis (lower body)
Status report: Canucks coach Willie Desjardins confirmed Kassian has been cleared to return from a Nov. 25 finger injury, but he is reluctant to change a winning lineup. Kassian, who has two goals and three assists in 17 games this season, was frustrated about being a healthy scratch against the Kings. "It's been 100 percent for a little while," he said. "He obviously doesn’t see me fitting in right now and that’s a coach's decision. It's definitely frustrating." … The Kings defense isn't set, so McBain might still get into the lineup. "One of them is banged up a little," Sutter said. "Put them all in warm-ups, see how it goes." Based on the line combinations in practice, it appears Sutter will also re-unite Pearson, Carter and Toffoli, who combined for 18 goals and 17 assists in October but haven't played consistently together since early November.
Who's hot: Gaborik missed the game in Calgary with an injury, but had an assist in Edmonton on Tuesday and has a point in seven straight games (seven goals, four assists). … Burrows has two goals and two assists in four games since being dropped to the fourth line.