Kings/Ducks: Much at stake in freeway matchup

Kings (32-23-4, 68 points) vs. Ducks (32-24-4, 68) at Honda Center, 7 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Big game hunting – There hasn’t been a bigger game between the Kings and Ducks in a while. Both have the same number of points heading in, but the Kings are eighth in the Western Conference standings and the Ducks are ninth. The winner will be in the top eight by the end of the night, the loser won’t. In the grand scheme of Southern California sports, it would be neat if both teams made the playoffs for the first time ever, but it’s looking more like one will advance at the expense of the other. After tonight, they still play three more times against each other, including back-to-backs to end the season.

2. Strength vs. strength – Depending on how you look at it, the key match up in this game is either the Ducks’ high-flying offense against the Kings smothering defense, or the Ducks’ floundering defense against the Kings’ impotent offense. As has been well publicized, Anaheim had allowed 21 goals in the last three games, which just happens to coincide with the departure of All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller to dizzy spells. The club called up Ray Emery on Wednesday as a safety net for the struggling Curtis McElhinney, though Emery hasn’t played in the NHL since last season. The Kings, meanwhile, are coming off a 3-0 loss at the New York Islanders, who have allowed more goals than any team in the Eastern Conference.

3. Martinez gets a seat – Kings coach Terry Murray made another curious move with one of his rookies, delegating defenseman Alec Martinez as a healthy scratch for tonight’s game in place of Davis Drewiske, who hasn’t played since Jan. 6. It was just a few weeks ago that Murray was praising Martinez, even after he made poorly-timed turnovers in his own zone that led to tie-breaking, third-period goals. Some have speculated that the Kings are readying Martinez for a trade heading into Monday’s deadline. Earlier this week, rookie center Andrei Loktionov was returned to the AHL, even though the Kings are struggling to score goals and that’s his speciality.

4. More line juggling – Murray also decided to break up the "geezer line" of veterans Justin Williams, Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll, saying they haven’t been as productive lately. Williams has seven points in the last seven games but Stoll has just two in the last nine and Smyth has three in the last nine but no goals since Jan. 26. Dustin Brown, who continues to struggle with his offensive game, will join Smyth and Stoll, while Williams drops back to a third-line role with Brad Richardson and Michal Handzus, two players who aren’t known for their offense.

5. Sturm watch II –As mentioned earlier, Loktionov was sent back to Manchester to work on his game and make room for Marco Sturm, who has been out since Jan. 18 with tendinitis in his right knee. Kings’ management will be watching Sturm closely, as he wasn’t too impressive in his first 15 games in a Los Angeles uniform, totaling four goals and four assists while the Kings went 6-9-0. Sturm admitted he wasn’t 100% during the initial stretch, still recovering from offseason surgery on his left knee, but said he’s ready to give it his all beginning tonight. He'll be on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds, so he'll be expected to produce in the scoring column.