Kings (31-23-12, 74 points) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (21-38-7, 49 points) at Nationwide Arena, 4 p.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. Spoilers – The Blue Jackets are suddenly playing well and making life difficult on their Western Conference co-inhabitants, at least the ones who still feel like they have a shot at making the postseason. Columbus has scored a combined 10 goals in three straight wins, a sure sign the Kings can’t afford to take the Blue Jackets lightly. They made that mistake Jan. 7 at Staples Center and lost, 1-0, a game that will forever be remembered for Dustin Penner's upper-pancake injury.
2. Bottoms up – The Kings are no longer the lowest-scoring team in the league. Hip Hip Hooray. They tore off that three-month-old label by scoring 13 goals in the last three games, leaving Minnesota dead-last in that category. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to nominate the Kings as the hottest offense in the league. The turning point seemed to arrive Feb. 23, when they acquired Jeff Carter from the Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson. Carter has two goals in six games since coming to L.A.. Not game-changing material, but his presence seems to be opening up opportunities for his teammates, and they’ve delivered.
3. Opposite sides – Johnson is already making his presence felt in the Buckeye State. He has a goal and two assists in the last two games, both victories against the Coyotes. He’s a plus-4 in those games after starting minus-4 in his first two appearances with Columbus. His plus-minus rating was a big negative during his stay in L.A. It will be interesting to see how he interacts with his former teammates in his first appearance against the Kings. Both, undoubtedly, know each other very well.
4. Bernier in net? – If the timing of who skates off the ice first during practice is any indication, it appears back-up goalie Jonathan Bernier will get the nod against Columbus. Bernier hasn’t received a lot of work lately, but has been sharp when called upon. He hasn’t allowed more than two goals in his last seven starts and is showing the hockey world why he was a first-round draft pick in 2006. This is the same goalie who was on fire at the end of last season too.
5. Goalie plan – Columbus back-up goalie Curtis Sanford was in goal for all three previous games against the Kings this season, but it appears Steve Mason will be between the pipes against the Kings. Mason should be a welcome sight for L.A., as he lost four of his last five starts against the Kings with a 4.96 goals-against average in that span.