In their first meeting since February 2020, the LA Kings will try to extend the Panthers’ losing streak to three games while getting back into the win column.
The rosters look a little bit different since the last time these two teams met. If you recall, Gabe Vilardi made his NHL debut and scored on his opening shift. He also set up the game-winning goal later, collecting two points in the LA Kings‘ 5-4 win.
Florida would go on to claim their first postseason berth in four seasons while the Kings failed to make the playoffs in back-to-back years. Flash forward, and the Panthers are looking like Stanley Cup contenders while Los Angeles is still trying to find an identity.
Tale of the Tape
LAK: 19.1% (18th)
FLA: 17.6% (20th)
LAK: 75.4% (28th)
FLA: 79.5% (20th)
LAK: 53.2% (6th)
FLA: 46.0% (30th)
Goals per game:
Goals against per game:
LAK: Anze Kopitar – 8 goals, 17 assists, 25 points
FLA: Jonathan Huberdeau – 10 goals, 22 assists, 32 points
Here are three things to keep an eye on tonight:
1. Short-handed Panthers squad
In what is essentially a microcosm of society right now, the Panthers have been hit hard by the ongoing pandemic. As many as five players have already been ruled out for Thursday’s game, including Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe, who have 36 points combined.
Sam Bennett, Radko Gudas, Ryan Lomberg, Brandon Montour, Carter Verhaeghe and one member of the Panthers travel party have entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. They will not be available to play tomorrow against Los Angeles.
— David Dwork (@DavidDwork) December 15, 2021
Brunette said he doesn’t know who is coming up from AHL Charlotte yet. “It’s been a chaotic morning. I’ll know more information as the day goes on.”
— David Dwork (@DavidDwork) December 16, 2021
With Anthony Duclair returning from injury on Tuesday, he’ll likely slot back into the team’s top line in place of Bennett. That said, the Panthers will be without two of their top-six forwards. They’ll also be without Aleksander Barkov, who was placed back on injured reserve earlier this week.
This game has a similar feel to when the Kings took on a short-handed Ottawa team. Obviously, Florida is still a much better team than Ottawa without the aforementioned players.
2. Welcome back, Blake Lizotte
The Kings will get a much-needed piece of their fourth line back as center Blake Lizotte is set to make his return to the lineup on Thursday.
The @LAKings have activated forward Blake Lizotte from the non-roster/COVID-19 list.
— LA Kings PR (@LAKingsPR) December 15, 2021
He’s practiced with the club the last two days, and per head coach Todd McLellan, Lizotte is good to go.
“I talked to him before practice and I have to meet with him after to see how he’s doing in the morning,” McLellan said via LA Kings Insider. “Health, conditioning should be good, it’s just knocking the rust off a little bit and make sure he’s good.”
With their grit and tenacity, Lizotte and Brendan Lemieux have been an underrated duo for the Kings this season. Combined with the designated snipe in Arthur Kaliyev, LA’s fourth line has become one of the best in the National Hockey League.
3. Success on the powerplay
Both teams are admittedly not great on the man advantage. The Kings’ powerplay struggles have been well-documented all season long. Lately, it looks as though Todd McLellan has abandoned the drop pass in favor of a more traditional zone entry, but it always boils down to the Kings’ ability to finish.
Similarly, the Panthers just went 0-for-6 on the powerplay against Ottawa on Tuesday, with Florida registering just nine shots on goal on the man advantage. They also gave up their fourth shorthanded goal of the year. Sound familiar?
The Panthers are one of the best teams in the NHL in 5-on-5 situations, but for whatever reason, they can’t get it going with the extra attacker.
“It doesn’t feel good, for sure,” Ekblad said of the PP. “We’ve got to find a way to find confidence and play well with the puck. We know we can do it 5-on-5. I don’t know what it is. Personally, I think I can be a lot better on the power play, and I’ll leave it at that.”
The Kings are just 1 for their last 11 on the powerplay, with Doughty’s blast against the Lightning being the only tally. They’ve shown the ability to shut down great 5-on-5 teams, so this game could ultimately come down to converting on the man advantage.