Tampa Bay Lightning (7-2-2) vs. Kings (8-3-0) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
Earning their stripes–The Kings are off to their best start in 20 years, building their record against a series of quality teams. The Lightning will be the eighth opponent in the last 10 with at least a .500 record coming into the game, and the Kings are 7-2 in the previous nine. Tampa Bay not only has a winning mark, but is tied for the most points in the NHL with Los Angeles and the Washington Capitals. Wasn’t it just 18 months ago that the Kings and Lightning finished last in their respective divisions?
The gang’s all here–Probably most remarkable about the Kings’ start to the season is they have yet to be at full strength. That should change against the Lightning. Kings defenseman Matt Greene missed the first five games recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Just as he returned to game shape, fellow defenseman Drew Doughty was sidelined for six games with a concussion. Doughty is set to return against the Lightning, as well as left wing Scott Parse, who has been out since the preseason with a groin pull.
Lightning killer–Playing against Tampa Bay has provided both highs and lows for right wing Justin Williams. As a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, he suffered a devastating knee injury in January 2003 when he was hit low by Tampa Bay’s Brad Lukowich. He faced the Lighting regularly as a member of Southeast Division rival Carolina from 2004 to ‘09 and haunted them ever since, scoring 25 points in 35 career games. His second-line mate, Ryan Smyth, has also been a thorn in Tampa bay’s side, totaling 12 points in 16 career games.
Head of the class–The 2008 entry draft was a good one, but few predicted it would be this good, this soon. Doughty was selected second overall by the Kings that June and in just his second year, he was a finalist for the Norris Trophy, which is awarded to the best defenseman in the NHL. Taken first overall was Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay. All he did was score 95 points in his sophomore season and he’s on pace to shatter that number with a league-leading 20 points. Stamkos is riding a seven-game point streak.
Thanks neighbor–The Anaheim Ducks aren’t thought of very highly around Staples Center, but Kings fans might want to send them a Thank You note if their team beats the Lightning. That’s because the Ducks beat Tampa Bay in overtime, 3-2, on Wednesday night in Anaheim, tying the score with 4:20 remaining in regulation on a goal by Kyle Palmieri, who was playing his first NHL game, and then winning on an overtime goal by Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks also softened up New Jersey last Friday, one night before the Devils traveled to Staples Center on lost, 3-1.