Kings (29-22-3, 61 points) vs. Washington Capitals (29-16-10, 68) at Verizon Center, 9:30 a.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. Halfway home – Heading into the halfway point of 10 consecutive road games, the Kings have pocketed six of the available eight points so far. The problem is, they could have done better. They lost in a shootout last week in Minnesota after failing to score in regulation, overtime and, yes, the shootout. After wins in Edmonton and Calgary, the Kings went home for four days and forgot to pack their offense for the trip to Pittsburgh, falling in overtime Thursday against the injury-depleted Penguins, 2-1. The Kings have played well in Washington, fortunately, owning a 7-1-2 record in their last 10 games.
2. Repeat offender – This topic won’t go away as long as Anze Kopitar continues to put up zeros in the goal-scoring column. The Kings’ best offensive player has scored one goal since Dec. 26, the worst 20-game stretch of his five-year career. What’s more troubling lately, he looks like he’s skating in tartar sauce. No speed through the neutral zone. No swift cuts between defenders. Kopitar has always played smaller than his size by avoiding heavy contact, so if he’s not scoring goals he’s really not helping the team. The good news? In his last game at Verizon Center two years ago, he had two goals and an assist in a 5-4 victory.
3. More reshuffling – When an offense goes into an extended slump, NHL coaches tend to play the shell game with their scoring lines in an effort to generate goals and send a message to their underperforming players. Friday was one of those days. Most notably, Kings coach Terry Murray moved Michal Handzus from fourth-line center to first-line left wing with Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds, replacing rookie Andrei Loktionov, who finally gets to center his own line with Kyle Clifford and Dustin Brown. Like they say, if it’s broke, fix it.
4. Back-up plan – Jonathan Bernier is set to start in goal for the Kings. Nobody is hoping for an offensive surge more than Bernier, who was in goal when the Kings went scoreless against Minnesota last week. He was credited with a shutout in the 1-0 shootout loss to the Wild, but in his last two starts he has allowed a total of two goals and hasn’t won either. The Capitals were shut out at home Tuesday against San Jose and it's possible Washington sniper Alex Ovechkin has been playing darts on Bernier's mug shot for three days.
5. Ovie has been 0-for – Ovechkin, the two-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner, is in a mini-slump of his own, finishing point-less in five of his last six games. Of course, in the middle of that ‘drought,’ he exploded for a goal and three assists Friday in a 5-2 win at Tampa Bay. The Kings have managed to keep Ovechkin from single-handily beating them in his career, limiting him to one goal and four assists in five games.