Kings (33-23-4, 70 points) vs. Minnesota Wild (32-22-6, 70) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Home sweet home – The Kings probably won’t need to turn on the GPS to find their way to Staples Center tonight, but they might feel a little like the visitor when they walk into the arena. Thanks to the Grammy Awards and the NBA All-Star Game, the Kings haven’t played a home game since Jan. 26, a 3-2 shootout victory against San Jose. A lot has happened between then and now, most importantly they reeled off a 6-1-3 record in the ensuing road games and moved from 11th to sixth in the Western Conference standings.
2. Sitting pat? – While other teams around the league continue to trade players like they're at a baseball card convention, the Kings seem content to forge ahead with virtually the same roster. By comparison, a night after allowing three goals against on 18 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Kings, Anaheim goalkeeper Curtis McElhinney was promptly traded this morning to Tampa Bay for goalie Dan Ellis. If you’re keeping track, both goalies who practiced with the Ducks on Tuesday were gone by Thursday. The Kings have until Monday to get that high-scoring forward they so desperately need.
3. Little separation – No team has played the Kings as closely this season as the Wild. All three previous meetings were tied at the end of regulation, with the Kings winning the first in a shootout, Minnesota winning the second in overtime and the third in a shootout. In another sign of just how even these teams are, both teams enter this game with the same number of points. Nashville and Calgary are also sitting on 70 points to round out the top eight.
4. Defensive competition --Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell scored his second goal of the season Wednesday night against the Ducks and it proved to be a huge one, breaking a 2-2 tie seven minutes into the third period and holding up to be the winner. Mitchell has now joined in the unofficial competition among the other two veteran blue-liners, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene, to see who could score the most goals this season. Scuderi has two goals and Greene has one. All three scored on the recent 10-game trip.
5. Breaking the 20 --On the flipside, Ryan Smyth scored his 20thgoal of the season against Anaheim, putting him in a three-way tie for the team lead with Justin Williams and Dustin Brown. It’s the 11thseason that Smyth has scored at least 20 goals. Now, if Anze Kopitar (18 goals) and Jarret Stoll (16) can get to 20, it would mark the first time the Kings had five 20-goal scorers in the same season since 1993-94. Luc Robitaille (44), Wayne Gretzky (38), Jari Kurri (31), Mike Donnelly (21) and Rob Blake (20) were the team leaders that season.