With their second meeting of the season looming on Saturday night at Rogers Arena, the tide has turned. Heading into Wednesday's game against Detroit, the Kings are currently on a four-game winning streak that has pushed them to within one point of a playoff spot, with games in hand on their rivals. Meanwhile, the Canucks returned home from a tough road trip to lose their second consecutive game on Tuesday and look like they could be facing their first real stretch of adversity.
Normally defensively stingy, Vancouver has given up 12 goals in its last two games—coincidentally, the same two games that top-pairing blueliner Kevin Bieksa has been out of the lineup with a groin injury.
To make matters worse, both so-called elite goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider have been only average in their recent outings, a situation that made Schneider call himself out after Tuesday's game. "I have to be better, I have to find a way to get back down to one, two goals a game like we're used to and the team plays well enough to do, and right now it's just not happening and I have to figure out why," Schneider told Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun.
Now, the Canucks get word that Ryan Kesler is out with a fractured foot and could be shelved for four to six weeks. Apparently, Kesler suffered the injury blocking a shot in Dallas on February 21 but it wasn't diagnosed until a CT scan on February 27 (per Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun).
Rookie Jordan Schroeder has proved to be a capable replacement as a second-line center, but he's not the 40-goal-scoring, Selke-trophy-winning, prime-time Kesler that the Canucks were hoping to have back in their lineup. With defensive center Manny Malhotra now shut down, Andrew Ebbett is being recalled from the AHL Chicago Wolves to fill the gap in the middle for now.
The Canucks also put Aaron Volpatti on waivers on Wednesday, a somewhat curious move even before the Kesler injury. Volpatti has played in 16 of Vancouver's 19 games this year, recording one goal, 28 penalty minutes and an even plus-minus. He was contributing as a physical fourth-liner and his demotion means Vancouver has no spare forwards on the roster if a player should go down with a sudden injury or illness.
While the Canucks may be sliding into disarray, the Los Angeles Kings have reversed their fortunes in February. They've won six of their last seven games and during their recent four-game win streak they've scored 15 goals while allowing just five—shades of their 2012 Stanley Cup winning ways. Jeff Carter's on a four-game goal-scoring streak heading into Wednesday's game against Detroit. Young Slava Voynov is leading the way on defense with a plus-12 ranking, and both Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier are giving their team a chance to win every night.
Meanwhile, Kings' GM Dean Lombardi has so many healthy bodies at his disposal, he was able to ship former Olympic gold medallist Simon Gagne back to Philadelphia on Tuesday in exchange for a conditional draft choice. 32-year-old Gagne's contract expires at the end of this year and the winger had been a recent healthy scratch for the Kings.
In a conference call, Lombardi explained his reasoning (per Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times): "We feel pretty good about our depth up front in the system and that opens up a roster spot ... and allows us some flexibility in terms of space and cash at the [trading] deadline."
The Kings may be deep up front, but they're not without their injury issues on the blue line, which makes their recent run all the more impressive. Willie Mitchell remains sidelined after offseason knee surgery, while Alec Martinez and Matt Greene are also on the shelf. The youngsters are carrying the day, as 34-year-old Rob Scuderi and 28-year-old Davis Drewiske are the only defensemen in the current Kings' lineup over age 24.
Who will win Saturday's game in Vancouver?
After a slow start, the Kings are once again starting to look like the team whose championship momentum began when they bulldozed a sleepy Vancouver Canucks squad that was missing a key forward. All eyes will be on Saturday night's prime-time matchup to see if history repeats, or if Vancouver will find a way to exact revenge for their long summer vacation.
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