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Struggling Kings must deal with surging Blue Jackets

by John Kreiser

BLUE JACKETS (29-23-4) at KINGS (30-23-6)


Last 10: Columbus 7-3-0; Los Angeles 1-8-1

Season series: The Columbus Blue Jackets will try to sweep their two-game series against the Los Angeles Kings. Columbus beat L.A. 5-3 at Nationwide Arena on Jan. 21.

Big story: The Blue Jackets, coming off a 4-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, play the second of their three-game California swing when they visit the reeling Kings, who are mired in a slump that was just beginning the last time the teams met. Los Angeles is still third in the Pacific Division, but the fifth-place Phoenix Coyotes are only four points back and have two games in hand.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: One key to the surge that has planted Columbus in third place in the Metropolitan Division has been balance. Coach Todd Richards has been able to roll four lines on a steady basis, and one reason has been the arrival of forward Corey Tropp on a waiver claim from the Buffalo Sabres in late November.

Tropp, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, has nine points in 29 games and has combined with Mark Letestu and Derek MacKenzie to form a solid fourth line that has contributed offense as well as energy.

"I've always been confident in myself that if I got a fair opportunity, that I could get back to that point and also go beyond it," he told the team's website. "I think there are still some areas for growth in my game; one thing is I want to get stronger on pucks -- and when you're recovering from a knee injury you lose some of your summer training."

Kings: The offense came to life against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night, generating three goals, only to see the defense and goaltending struggle in a 5-3 loss. The one positive aspect was the play of rookie Tyler Toffoli, who moved from center to left wing on a line with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. Toffoli had a goal and an assist and was on the ice for all three L.A. goals.

"The big thing is his feet. The adjustment is clearly his feet," coach Darryl Sutter said after practice Wednesday when asked about moving Toffoli from center. "We're doing it now because we need to get something out of the left side of our ice, when you look at it.

"With the game being so much faster now, it's a big adjustment. If Tyler's able to do it, a big part of that is because he's playing with great skaters. Right now, Kopi and Jeff can sort of manage that, where he maybe [got] caught between or 'I'm not quite making the right play' a little bit. But … it's never going to bother him around the net because you've got the hands."

Who's hot: Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has won his past three starts, allowing five goals on 94 shots. … Kopitar had a goal and two assists for the Kings against Chicago and has three goals and five points in his past three games.

Injury report: Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski (lower body) may have to sit out, though he made it through the game in Anaheim. Forward Blake Comeau (knee) is day-to-day. Forwards Marian Gaborik (broken collarbone) and Jared Boll (ankle) are out. … Kings defenseman Alex Martinez (elbow) is not likely to return until after the Olympic break.

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