HOW TO WATCH
Game Time: 4:00 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Die By The Blade
The Season, It Marches On
Not going to lie. I sat down today to write this preview and was just like, “oh no, really? Again?” This is not the type of season where there are big lessons to be learned from one game to another. Yesterday’s game was progress in that it felt like a classic Darryl Sutter-era loss. The Kings put 43 shots on Jimmy Howard, 10 of which are considered high danger shots. 37 were legitimate scoring chances.
They were putting shots on Howard from all over the ice, and limiting the Red Wings chances, and still: they only scored one goal, and it was a flukey rebound off of a drive to the net by Alex Iafallo. It was a game that falls into the category of a moral victory, as the team overall played very well, but their mistakes all wound up in the back of their own net. (Looking at you, Derek Forbort.)
On any other night, for any other iteration of the Kings, in any other season, this game probably would have been a win, and they would have rolled into Buffalo looking to build off of that. Instead, they get to build off of a “well, we tried very hard” performance — one in which perhaps they tried too hard, gripped sticks too tightly. Tyler Toffoli had eight shots on goal, which sounds great in theory, except that a number of them went right for that winged wheel.
There’s no easy answer or quick fix to this. If you’re rooting for the tank, you don’t necessarily even want to see a fix. But, especially with Buffalo coming up on the docket, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ryan O’Reilly’s exit interview from last season, where he talked about the team becoming “okay with losing”, and that his time there made him question his love for hockey. O’Reilly’s bounced back, with 29 points in 28 games for the St. Louis Blues this season, and the Sabres (more on them later) are clearly fine without him. But the last thing we want out of any of this — even if the season comes with the prize of Jack Hughes at the end of it — is a dejected Kopitar/Carter/Doughty/Toffoli/Quick/anybody sitting in their stall at the end of the season, questioning their love for the game.
So, root for the best possible draft pick. That’s fine. But also root for this team to pick themselves up, dust themselves off every so often, and have more repeats of that game against Vegas, or even a re-do on this Detroit game, only with more pucks going in nets. Give them some happiness, every so often. Keeps the whole machine running.
Looks like Cal Petersen, former Buffalo Sabres draft pick, gets the start in net tonight. It will be interesting to see how he weathers two things. First, the long layoff in between playing action. And second, probably some lusty boos from the assembled crowd in Buffalo.
No other expected lineup changes. Sean Walker is available and could get in the lineup, probably in favor of Paul LaDue (although we all know there were defensemen who performed worse and committed more egregious mistakes than LaDue).
If there was a positive to take, it’s that the top nine created chances, using speed and skating ability, and just couldn’t capitalize on it. Brendan Leipsic continues to be fun to watch, even if he’s still struggling to convert.
It took them long enough, but the Buffalo Sabres might actually be good now. Probably not win-the-Stanley-Cup levels of good, but a.) teams have surprised us before, and some savvy moves at the deadline could maybe put Buffalo up there, and b.) after so many miserable years up there, honestly, you’ve got to be a little happy for them.
The Sabres find themselves sitting at third in the Atlantic, having slipped some from the brief, shining moment in time where they were the first overall team in the league. The team went on a 10-game winning through November, outscoring opponents 36-24 during that streak. At times, the Sabres have looked unstoppable, their lineup bolstered by the offseason addition of Jeff Skinner, whose 20 goals have him tied for fourth in the league. Skinner’s only two behind Alex Ovechkin, who leads the league with 22. (Skinner, on many Kings’ fans wishlists, was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes for a good, but not franchise altering, prospect, and three picks — a second rounder in 2019, and third and sixth rounds in 2020.)
The Sabres have struggled since that winning streak, though, registering losses in five straight games. They’ve had a mixed bag of a schedule, with losses against Toronto, Nashville, and Tampa Bay not standing out as surprises, but some easily winnable ones against the Panthers and Flyers are mixed in there as well.
The Sabres have a fun mix of young talent, veteran savvy, and for once, seem to have a stable solution in goal. They’re going to look to come out firing against the Kings to take advantage of a struggling team. The Kings have historically struggled in Buffalo — last season was the first time they won there since 2003 — and coming into town on a back to back, with an injury-ravaged roster, on a complete mess of the season, sounds like it will bode well for the home team.