Kings: Time to establish an identity vs. Red Wings

Kings (32-25 -12, 76 points) vs. Detroit Red Wings (44-22-3, 91 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Mystery men – Sitting courtside at the Clippers game Monday night was Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, two of the best players on the Kings. As they were shown on the multiple big screens that hover over the floor, there was, well, really no response. Almost as if they were unrecognizable. That would’ve never happened in Philadelphia, where both played for six seasons before they were traded to the Kings in the last nine months. One thing’s for certain, the Kings have supplanted the Clippers as the most unrecognizable pro sports team in L.A. Only a deep playoff run could possibly reverse that. At this point, the bigger challenge is just making the postseason for a third straight year.

2. Playoff picture – At least the Kings can cross the Ducks off the list of competition for one of the final Western Conference playoffs bids. Anaheim lost its third straight game Monday night in Colorado, leaving the team nine points back of the eighth-place Avs. Unless the Stars and Blackhawks accidentally pull their emergency chutes down the stretch, they can probably coast to the finish line, leaving five teams drag racing for the final two playoff berths. As it stands now, the Coyotes, Avs, Sharks, Flames and Kings are bunched within three points and have anywhere from 11 to 14 games remaining. To say this is a must-win is almost laughable. At this point forward, every game will fall into that category.

3. Defensive wizards – While the defensive pair of Rob Scuderi and Drew Doughty can’t seem to finish a shift without the puck hitting their net, rookie Slava Voynov and his veteran partner, Willie Mitchell, continue to pick up the slack. Voynov has made the trade for Carter last month look better and better each game, more than competently replacing Jack Johnson. In the eight games since the trade, Voynov has contributed a goal and three assists, all while building up a plus-6 rating. Mitchell’s numbers have been even better since he swapped partners, owning a goal and four assists with a plus-9 rating. He was a plus-2 in the previous 55 games, mostly playing alongside Johnson.

4. New coach, same result – The Red Wings have been especially tough on the Kings this season, just ask any of the three coaches they’ve beaten. They’ve won all three games in different, but no-less frustrating fashions. They initially won, 4-1, at Staples Center on Nov. 19, essentially beginning the losing skid that cost coach Terry Murray his job. Five days after Murray was fired and with interim coach John Stevens behind the bench, they completely embarrassed the Kings, 8-2, in Detroit. And then last week, with a third coach calling the shots in Darryl Sutter, the Red Wings erased a one-goal deficit with under five minutes remaining and won in regulation, 4-3.

5. Detroit still dinged – Like last week, the Red Wings are expected to be short-handed when they take on L.A. Seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom will miss his eighth straight game with a deep bone bruise in his right ankle, his longest stretch of inactivity in his 20-year NHL career. Pavel Datsyuk, who still leads Detroit in points (59), despite missing the last nine games following arthroscopic knee surgery, also will not play, coach Mike Babcock told reporters following practice in El Segundo on Monday. Forward Todd Bertuzzi (groin) and defenseman Jakub Kindl (strained oblique) are also sidelined for Tuesday’s game. Unfortunately for the Kings, No. 1 goalkeeper Jimmy Howard is set to return from a groin strain that kept him out the last three games.