If the Oilers can keep Anze Kopitar from lighting the lamp they will have a good chance the win. Kopitar leads the NHL in scoring, with 14 goals and 33 points, but when he scores a goal the King’s chance of winning is exceptional.
The Kings are 47-23-8 when Kopitar scores, including 8-2 this season. Kopitar is big, strong, highly skilled and he skates exceptionally well, but it will be interesting to see how he plays without Ryan Smyth.
Smyth’s style complimented Kopitar and he opened up a lot of ice for the Slovenian, but his new left-winger Alexander Frolov doesn’t play the same way. Frolov has more natural skill than Smyth, but he is very inconsistent.
Terry Murray benched Frolov for one game after eight unproductive games, and Frolov responded with eight points in his next six, and now he has one goal in his last eight games. He has played two games with Kopitar and has a goal, but it will be interesting to see how productive Kopitar is with Frolov instead of Smyth.
Talking with the media and management of the Kings, Smyth is responsible for a lot of Kopitar’s success. Oiler fans are well aware of Smyth’s consistent work ethic, and that, combined with Kopitar’s improved conditioning has Kopitar off to such a great start.
I asked Pat Quinn on which defensemen he plans on playing against the Kings top line of Kopitar, Frolov and Justin Williams, and it sounds like he will rotate between Steve Staios/Sheldon Souray and Ladislav Smid/Lubomir Visnovsky.
Quinn is very comfortable with the play of Smid and he was happy with how Smid matched up against Rick Nash earlier this year. While Staios and Souray are a more physical pairing and should be able to negate the size of that line, Quinn and Tom Renney will give Smid and Visnovsky some time against them as well.
Coming off a 4-0 shutout win, there will be no lineup changes and no new lines. For one of the few times this season we will see the identical lineup in consecutive games.
Penner — Gagner — Hemsky
Jacques — Brule — Horcoff
Moreau — Potulny — Cogliano
Reddox — O’Sullivan — Stortini
Stone to return
Ryan Stone was put through the paces for an extra 20 minutes after practice today, to see where he is at. When I spoke to him after practice, he was a bit frustrated with his recovery. He is still feeling pain in his knee, and he is only doing skating drills at this point. They won’t put him in one-on-one drills until the pain subsides. He ruled himself out for this weekend, and said he is looking at possibly the final three games of the upcoming six-game road trip as a possible return date.
Robert Nilsson skated and he will have another neurological test this afternoon, and if he passes that then he should be cleared to play for Friday. He said he is feeling better and his headaches have disappeared. Even if he is cleared, I think it will be hard for him to get a spot in the lineup.
Marc Pouliot skated alongside Stone and Nilsson after practice, and it looks like he is about two weeks away. If Potulny and Reddox continue to play well it will be very interesting to see what Steve Tambellini does with his roster in two weeks, when Stone, Nilsson and Pouliot are ready to go.
The Oilers are being very cautious with Nikolai Khabibulin’s back, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be ready for this weekend’s back-to-back games v. the Sharks and the Canucks. Devan Dubnyk (Doob-nick) is itching to play and I’m curious if the Oilers will give him a game or two.
Dubnyk will have to clear waivers next season, and it is doubtful that he would get through, so will the Oilers give him a game or two? And what is the point of only a few games? If he plays well, is that enough proof that they could move Deslauriers, and if DD struggles in two games is that reason enough to give up on him? I think he will get a game or two, but I don’t think those games, regardless of how he plays, will be the deciding factor in what they do with him this summer.