Kings (15-14-4, 34 points) vs. Ducks (9-19-5, 23 points) at Staples Center, 7 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Sound familiar? – Wasn’t it just three weeks ago that the Ducks were introducing a new coach? Now it’s the Kings turn to cross their fingers and hope a midseason coaching change will help the players shoot the puck better. Darryl Sutter has been handed the task of unlocking an offense that ranks last in the league in scoring. His first triumph would be getting the Kings to score at least three goals in a game. They haven’t lit the lamp more than twice in the last 12. Bruce Boudreau hasn’t had any luck turning the tide in Anaheim. Since he took over for Randy Carlyle following a win against Montreal on Nov. 20, the Ducks have lost seven of nine.
2. Richards ready – The best news out of practice Wednesday was the confirmation that Kings center Mike Richards has been cleared to play. He missed the last eight games with a concussion suffered against Florida. Richards said he’s feeling fine and ready to play against the Ducks, barring any unforeseen setbacks. Despite missing the last three weeks, Richards still leads the Kings with 11 goals. That’s not a good sign. Since he’s the straw the stirs the power play, it’s no surprise the unit has gone into silent mode since his absence. And when he scores at least a point this season, the Kings are 12-2-2.
3. Blurring the lines – Sutter has already made some interesting moves with his forward lines. He moved speedy wing Brad Richardson up to the top group with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, and had Richards centering the second line with Simon Gagne and Trevor Lewis. It was just in the last month that Richardson was a healthy scratch in eight of nine games and Lewis in nine of 10. With the return of Richards on the horizon, the Kings will need to make a roster move after Christmas. Therefore, the promotions of Richardson and Lewis could also be viewed as final auditions.
4. Rookie watch – Another experiment that could be winding down involves rookie forward Andrei Loktionov. He was playing on a wing next to Richards, then moved to his natural center position when Richards went down with his injury. The move hasn’t resulted in more production, however. Loktionov, called up from the AHL after Dustin Penner and Scott Parse went down with injuries in mid-November, doesn’t have a point in his last 11 games and spent Saturday’s game in Detroit watching from the press box. Of course, the Kings lost that game, 8-2, so maybe that’s a good sign for Loktionov. A goal from the young Russian would be even better.
5. Sputtering Ducks – Already thin up front, the Ducks will be without second-line center Saku Koivu, who has missed the last five games with his latest groin injury. Koivu is tied for fifth on the team with 15 points and is a team-high plus-4. If playing without Koivu isn’t enough of a challenge, the Ducks haven’t won on the road in nearly two months, losing 12 straight away from Honda Center. The losing streak includes a 5-4 overtime loss in Washington on Nov. 1—when Boudreau was still coaching the Capitals.