Kings (32-22-3, 67 points) vs. New York Rangers (30-24-4, 64) at Madison Square Garden, 4 p.m. PT.
Five storylines to track:
1. Half full? – Optimists will say the Kings are one point out of fourth place, pessimists will say they’re one point out of eighth. Either way, they’re both technically correct. Western Conference teams woke up this morning to find the knot had been pulled even tighter. Only two points separate third through ninth place, with five teams all square at 68. There’s no comparison when it comes to the hottest team though. The Kings have earned a league-best 18 points in their last 10 games.
2. Passed the test, barely – Not sure why, but Kings coach Terry Murray called Wednesday’s game in Columbus the most important of the season. The players then went out and blew three one-goal leads, the last with 1:23 remaining in the game, but were thankfully saved in the shootout because they had Jonathan Quick in goal and he doesn’t lose shootouts. Maybe it was because the team spent two days in Columbus and became bored stiff but they certainly didn’t play like the game was ultra-important. Madison Square Garden should provide a more inspirational atmosphere.
3. Andrei’s becoming a giant – As the countdown toward Marco Sturm’s return from tendinitis in his knee inches closer, the decision of what to do with his roster spot isn’t getting any easier. Andrei Loktionov seemed the likely candidate to return to the AHL when Sturm's ready, as he’s the only waivers-ineligible forward that could be sent to Manchester. But the 20-year-old rookie seems to be getting more comfortable by the day, especially since moving back to his natural center position. He had a goal and an assist against the Blue Jackets for the first multi-point game of his career. Is recent healthy scratch Brad Richardson now the odd man out, or will they expose enforcer Kevin Westgarth to waivers?
4. No excuses – There was a time not long ago when getting a split out of back-to-back games was considered a success. With back-up goalie Jonathan Bernier usually getting one of the starts, Kings fans pretty much conceded that victory to the other team. Now that Bernier has bounced back from his rocky 2-5 start and strung together four consecutive solid performances–all while Quick continues to shine–Kings Nation believes their team will keep on truckin’.
5. Marked man – Just when it seemed like Rangers left wing Sean Avery was mellowing with age, he blasted referees last weekend for his treatment in a 3-2 loss to the Thrashers. Avery, of course, didn’t make many friends in the locker room while playing for the Kings from 2003-07, going so far as to make fun of Dustin Brown’s lisp. It's safe to believe Brown hasn't forgotten about that. And don't be surprised if Kings rookie Kyle Clifford makes a bee-line for the fellow Ontario antagonizer.