The Kings, and their awesome purple and yellow retro jerseys, roll into Rexall Place tonight for their 2nd of ten straight road games. The Kings lost 1-0 in a SO last night in Minnesota, and this road trip will make or break their season. The Kings are sitting in a disappointing 11th place in the tight western conference, two points back of 7th and 8th place Chicago and San Jose.
Tonight is a big game for the Kings, but I wonder if it might be a showcase game for Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky in front of Dean Lombardi, who must be feeling the heat to get his Kings into the playoffs. I’m not sold that trading either Hemsky or Penner is a smart move, but if the return is Brayden Schenn then I would listen.
We’ve heard some quiet rumblings that Lombardi might deviate from his usual strategy of being patient and developing kids, and MIGHT considering moving a prospect like Schenn for a proven top-six forward. I stress might, because I’m still more of a doubting Thomas when it comes to Lombardi straying from his usual process, but if the Kings continue to struggle scoring he might have no choice.
The Kings will be a tired group tonight, after arriving in Edmonton late last night from Minny, clearing customs and getting to their hotel around four in the morning. They had an optional skate this morning, and they will be in a nasty mood after getting blanked in Minnesota.
The Oilers, meanwhile are rested, and will hope to avoid looking as rusty as the Kings and Wild did last night. Tonight is the beginning of the stretch run for the Oilers. Tom Renney wants to use these 33 games to ensure his team is comfortable and understands exactly how he wants them to play next season. It is a unique approach to tell his team to use these games as a springboard to next season, but when the playoffs aren’t an option, he needed something to grab their attention.
TRIPLE H WILL PLAY TOGETHER
Ales Hemsky returns to the lineup tonight and he’ll skate with Taylor Hall and Shawn Horcoff. I spoke with Hemsky yesterday about playing with Hall and he was hoping for a few more games with Hall. I wonder if Hall and Hemsky are better as a centre/winger combo than as wingers, so hopefully we will see that sometime during this 33 game stretch.
Dustin Penner will slide down and skate with Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Jones. Cogliano has ten points in his last 14 games and has been an even player during that stretch. Renney has shown more confidence in the former 25th overall pick, often playing him against the other team’s top unit. Cogliano has improved in most areas of his game, but his faceoff % isn’t getting any better.
Watch Cogliano when he takes draws on his forehand. He isn’t trying to win them, but is focusing on not losing them and playing for the tie. Having Penner on his wing will likely help his faceoff %, because Penner can use his size to get to lose pucks better than a guy like Liam Reddox. Renney hinted yesterday that he wants his wingers to be more helpful on draws, and is hoping their determination on draws will improve the team’s percentage by three or four points.
Interesting to note that David Steckel took all of his faceoffs last night on his backhand, and Boyd Gordon took most of the draws when Steckel was on his forehand. I haven’t watched enough Capitals games to see if this is the norm, but if it is, then Steckel’s % has to come with an * beside it. Guys like Manny Malhotra, who take every draw regardless of the side of the ice, are legitimate faceoff leaders compared to guys who only take draws on their backhand.
COGLIANO’S MOUTH IS TAKING A BEATING
Andrew Cogliano’s All-Star break wasn’t that great. He took some down time in California, but not before enduring his fourth root canal. Cogliano’s two front teeth are a mess since taking a puck and stick six weeks ago. He had surgery to remove a cyst that grew in his top lip courtesy of the stick, but the surgery didn’t work and he will see a plastic surgeon in a week to get it fixed again.
"I’m not sure why it didn’t work the first time. They said there was a chance it could come back, but after the original surgery I asked them to show we what they took out and they didn’t show me anything so I was pretty skeptical after that. Every time I get a stick or an elbow it really hurts, puffs ups and bleeds and it isn’t a lot of fun. So I’m going to get it removed soon and hopefully I won’t have to worry about it again."
STORTINI GOING TO OKC
Zack Stortini cleared waivers today and will head to Oklahoma City. He will need to rediscover his agitating style and hopefully catch the eye of an opposing scout. He was a good foot soldier during his time in Edmonton and you hope he gets a shot with another organization. If Patrick O’Sullivan, who rarely gave a consistent effort, can get a shot from two different teams since leaving Edmonton, I’d like to think that a guy who gives you everything he has every night will get a chance next year.
Our thoughts are with Renney and his family as his father passed away yesterday. Renney didn’t address the media this morning, but it sounds like he will be on the bench tonight.
ANY LOVE FOR LA
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers are 2-4 in home games where the opposition played the night before. The Kings looked rusty last night and got in late, but this is must win game for them. Kings win 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nikolai Khabibulin has lost eleven straight and picked up his last win Dec 16th v. Columbus. I’m preplexed to figure out why he is starting tonight, considering the Oilers want to make things interesting in the west, but a lot things confuse me. Khabibulin will let in a questionable goal in the first and the Oilers won’t be able to recover.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: JF Jacques will play with an extra gear tonight. Seeing Stortini sent to the minors will make him realize that if he doesn’t start to be a physical presence his stint with the Oilers could come to an end. Jacques will score his 4th goal of the season, have three hits and drop the mitts with Kyle Clifford in a spirited first period scrap. Twitterverse and the Nation will be filled with comments about how they should sign Jacques right now. He is just what this team needs; size and toughness.
***KIngs GM, Dean Lombardi will join me at 5:00 p.m. today on the TEAM 1260 to talk about the Kings, and where he is at regarding making some moves to jumpstart/improve his club.***