March 21 – Day 158 – Los Angeles wants to replace Garth Brooks as the King of Country

Even with the four goal offensive explosion in the second period, these squads needed a shootout before Minnesota could earn the 3-2 win.

The first score didn’t find the back of the net until the 20:50 mark, courtesy of Minnesota‘s First Star of the Game Erik Haula, whose snap shot was assisted by Nino Niederreiter (his 22nd helper of the season) and Justin Fontaine, which was just the start of an exciting second period.  Niederreiter gave the Wild an insurance goal 6:14 later, assisted by Jordan Schroeder and Mikael Granlund (his 29th helper of the season).  It was an insurance goal they needed, as Third Star Andrew Shaw, assisted by Artemi Panarin (his 38th helper of the season), scored 1:34 later to pull the Hawks within a goal.  With 6:39 remaining in the period, Richard Panik leveled the game with a fancy wrap-around goal, assisted by Andrew Desjardins and Duncan Keith (his 34th helper of the season).  Neither team was able to score in the remaining time in the period and took their two-all tie into the second intermission and through the third and overtime, leading to a shootout.

Only one attempt found the back of the net, but it was all Minnesota needed.  After Second Star Devan Dubnyk made the save on Jonathan Toews, Charlie Coyle fired the Wild‘s first attempt past Scott Darling.  Dubnyk followed that with a save on Patrick Kane and Panarin to earn the victory.

Dubnyk earns the win after saving 29 of 31 shots faced (93.5%), while Darling takes the shootout loss, saving 32 of 34 (94.1%).

It’s the second straight win for the road teams under our observation, and it sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 70-41-17, favoring the home squads by 29 points over the roadies.

It’s a light Monday tonight as only four games will be played, starting with Florida at the New York Rangers at 7 p.m. eastern.  Half an hour later, two more games drop the puck (Philadelphia at the New York Islanders [NBCSN/TVAS] and Calgary at Toronto), followed at 8 p.m. eastern by this evening’s nightcap: Los Angeles at Nashville.

Philadelphia at New York is the only divisional rivalry being played this evening, but there are two games between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Florida at New York and Los Angeles at Nashville).

While the FloridaNew York game is important for the Rangers and their efforts to get home ice for the first round, I’m more interested in the preview of the highly probable first round matchup between the Kings and Predators.

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Tonight’s game will be Los Angeles‘ seventh appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 3-3-0 record.  Their most recent game featured was March 9, a 4-3 overtime winner over the visiting Capitals.  Nashville has been featured nine times before this contest, and own a 5-3-1 record in the series, with their most recent being Thursday’s 4-2 victory over the Islanders on home ice.

The 44-22-5 Los Angeles Kings currently rank best in the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference, although a win tonight could change that – more on that later.  To get to that position, the Kings have given up the least goals in the NHL, paired with the 11th best scoring offense.

Led by Alec Martinez’ 168 blocks, the Kings have allowed only 1959 shots to reach 37-17-4 Jonathan Quick and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.2% for only 160 goals against, the fewest in the league.  Although they’ve had overall defensive success, the penalty kill has been barely better than average, neutralizing 81.53% of their infractions for 46 power play goals against, only the 14th best rate in the league.

Led by Jeff Carter’s 199 shots, Los Angeles has fired the puck 2274 times, but only 8.5% have found the back of the net for 196 goals (led by Tyler Toffoli’s 26 tallies), 11th most in the league.  The special team that really takes the cake in the City of Angels is the power play, as their 21.05% success rate, good for 44 power play goals, ranks seventh best in the NHL.

The Kings come into tonight’s game riding a four game winning streak, with their most recent being Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Bruins on home ice.  With a win this evening, Los Angeles would not only pull themselves into a tie with the Stars, but also win the games played tiebreaker to take the lead in the Western Conference.

The 36-23-13 Nashville Predators currently occupy fourth in the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference, qualifying them for the first wildcard spot.  To get to that position, they’ve played an incredibly well-rounded game, playing both the 10th best offense and defense.  A more in-depth analysis of Nashville‘s game can be found within Thursday’s article.

Nashville‘s last game was Friday, a 4-1 loss in Washington.  A win tonight by the Predators would pull them within four points of the Blackhawks with a couple weeks left in the regular season.

As it stands right now, Los Angeles would host Nashville in a Western Conference Quarterfinal, although a Kings win this evening would completely alter that.  Los Angeles has already won the season series 2-0-0, but both previous games ended in overtime.  These squads last met February 20 on this surface, with both teams scoring a lone goal in regulation before Tanner Pearson earned the Kings the bonus point.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Los Angeles‘ Drew Doughty (+23 [tied for ninth best in the league]), Anze Kopitar (+31 [tied for league lead] and 65 points [10th most in the league]), Milan Lucic (+23 [tied for ninth best in the league]), Quick (37 wins [second most in the league], 2.14 GAA [fourth best in the league] and four shutouts [tied for sixth most in the league]) and Toffoli (+30 [third best in the league]) & Nashville‘s Pekka Rinne (four shutouts [tied for sixth most in the league] and 29 wins [tied for ninth most in the league]).

The season series is a good indication of how well these two squads match up against each other.  That being said, I’m expecting the Kings‘ defense to lead them to yet another victory over the Predators and the conference lead.

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