Kings (11-8-4, 26 points) vs. San Jose Sharks (13-6-1, 27 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Shuffling the deck – In an effort to reverse a season-long scoring slump, Kings coach Terry Murray made top-to-bottom line changes during practice Sunday. The most notable involve switching Jarret Stoll from third-line center to second-line right wing, opening the door for rookie Andrei Loktionov to move into his natural position at center. Dustin Brown moved from right wing on the second line to left wing on the top line, and Justin Williams drops back from the top-line right wing to the third line. Trent Hunter will get a look on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Brown. Got all that?
2. Déjà vu – The Kings got off to a franchise-best 12-3-0 start last season, but it’s interesting to note they have the same number of points (26) this season as they did after 23 games a year ago. After their hot start last season, the Kings came back down to earth by losing seven of their final eight in November. They rebounded with a 9-4-1 month of December to reignite Stanley Cup hopes, only to hit another skid after the New Year. The Kings need a similar holiday run if they want to keep pace in the West, where eight teams begin the week ahead of them in the standings.
3. Statement game – The Kings haven’t hosted the Sharks since their walk-off overtime winner last April in Game 6 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s important that the Kings prove to themselves, and their fans, that they can beat the top teams in the Western Conference, like the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. The Kings are a combined 0-4 this season against San Jose, Detroit, Chicago and Vancouver, the same teams that combined to make up the Western Conference finals the last three seasons. Until they can win against those teams, it’s difficult to get excited about anything more than another first-round exit.
4. Seconds please – The Kings received secondary scoring in their 2-1 loss to visiting Chicago on Saturday night, but they’d be the first to admit they should’ve had more. Hunter and another veteran forward, Ethan Moreau, missed the wide-open net on a couple of rebounds during the game. Hunter’s miss was especially painful because it occurred with about 2 ½ minutes remaining in the game and the Blackhawks clinging to a one-goal lead. In the 3-2 overtime loss to Dallas on Wednesday, second-year forward Kyle Clifford also missed wide at the end of a 2-on-1 breakaway, which would have given the Kings a two-goal lead early in the third period. When scoring is as difficult to come by as it has been for the Kings, they need to pot the easy ones.
5. Marleau is money – It seems every team that comes to town these days has a sniper that has owned the Kings over the years. Chicago had Patrick Sharp and San Jose has Patrick Marleau. In 79 career games against the Kings, Marleau has 73 points, more than he has totaled against in any other team in the NHL. He has been especially dangerous against the Kings on the power play, notching 10 goals and 20 assists. When the Kings lost to the Sharks, 4-2, on Nov. 7, he had a goal and two assists.