The LA Kings return home for four games after dropping two in a row on the road. Up first, the Atlantic Division’s Florida Panthers.
LA Kings (6-6-1)
Kempe – Kopitar – Vilardi
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Fiala – Byfield – Grundstrom
Lemieux – Lizotte – Kaliyev
Anderson – Doughty
Durzi – Roy
Edler – Clarke
It was a frustrating loss in Chicago on Thursday, but the Kings did control much of the game. One change that could occur is Quinton Byfield getting back into the lineup. He has missed the last five games due to an illness, but the team announced on Friday that Rasmus Kupari was sent back to the Ontario Reign. Whether this was a paper transaction or Byfield is indeed ready to return, we’ll learn more at the morning skate.
On defense, I will continue to put Brandt Clarke in as RD3 because he’s the best option. The next game he plays will start his entry-level contract, and as long as he’s here, he’s among the top six defensemen on the team and should be playing. It is worth noting Sean Walker will play if Clarke sits again.
Jonathan Quick was solid when called upon against the Blackhawks and has probably played slightly better than Cal Petersen lately. I think Quick gets the net again on Saturday.
Florida Panthers (6-4-1)
Verhaeghe – Barkov – Tkachuk
Balcers – Bennett – Reinhart
Luostarinen – Lundell – Hornqvist
Lomberg – E. Staal – Cousins
Forsling – Montour
Mahura – Gudas
Kiersted – M. Staal
Per MoneyPuck.com, the top line in Florida is second in the NHL among lines that have played at least 40 minutes together in xGF% (73.4%) and second in CF% (76.9%). They will prove to be a tough test for whichever line Todd McLellan chooses to match up against them.
The blue line is missing its top piece in Aaron Ekblad. Despite that, the team has been a solid 5-on-5 team. The Kings’ offense has been good this season and should be able to exploit a thing defense group.
Sergei Bobrovsky was strong in the Panthers’ win in San Jose on Thursday, stopping 36 of 39 shots. Florida also plays Sunday in Anaheim; I think Bobrovsky will get the tougher matchup in LA on Saturday.
Here’s how the two teams match up at 5-on-5 per Natural Stat Trick
|Los Angeles Kings||13||29||29||52.7||52.8||52.1||52.5||8.8||.899||0.987|
Florida is a top-three team in the NHL in xGF%, CF%, and SCF%. Despite injuries to Ekblad and Anthony Duclair, the team continues to be a strong one at even strength.
Los Angeles is starting to turn the corner; they’ve completely dominated recent games possession-wise, though Florida will provide a different type of test.
With a critical injury to defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers have struggled early this season on the power play. Florida is just 5-for-47 (10.6%), 31st in the NHL. Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov lead the team with four power play points each.
It’s a good thing the Panthers have been a good 5-on-5 team because their penalty kill is also very poor to start the season. Killing off just 70.7%, the Cats have the 30th-ranked kill in the league.
For the Kings, their power play went 0-for-2 on Thursday in Chicago and sits at 19th in the NHL at 20%. The Kill is 75.9% and 23rd in the league.
Let’s take a look at the odds, courtesy of our partner Betstamp (promo code: hockeyroyalty).
*Note: the odds below are for sports books offered in New York. Refer to available sports books specific to your state.
**Odds as of 8 am ET/5 am PT and may have changed since this has been published.
The LA Kings return home as underdogs, +125 at WynnBet. Florida is -135 at Caesars and DraftKings. I still am just not sure what to make of this Kings team. They’ve shown signs of finding their structure and getting back to the strong puck-possession team we’re used to seeing, but the consistency has not been there, nor has the goaltending. I’m going to pass on this one until we see more.
The total is 6.5, with the BetMGM offering the Over at -120 and FanDuel has the Under at +108. Florida is a team that can find the back of the net, and with the D-corps they are trotting out there, I think we could see some goals in this one.
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In most of the home games this season, McLellan has opted for Phillip Danault‘s line to be matched up against the opponent’s top line. Given that, he should see the bulk of Florida’s Aleksander Barkov line. That would leave Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, and Gabriel Vilardi to match up the Panther’s second line. The LA Kings’ top line is +260, +140, and +215, respectively, to score a goal.
I don’t think it’s a bad idea to pick on the Florida penalty kill here. There is a history between Matthew Tkachuk and the Kings so this could be a testy affair. Drew Doughty is +245 to record a power play point, while team leader in power play goals, Arthur Kaliyev, is +320 to pick up a point with the man advantage.
Tkachuk returns to LA, only this time, he’ll look to terrorize Doughty in a Florida Panthers uniform. In 18 career games, he has 11 points and 41 penalty minutes. He is +160 to score on Saturday.
Good luck, and enjoy the game!
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(Main photo credit: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)