Los Angeles Kings vs. St. Louis Blues: Battle for Playoff Position

Michael WagenknechtContributor IJanuary 18, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13: Head coach Davis Payne of the St. Louis Blues gives players last minute instructions in their game against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on January 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Blues defeated the Kings 3-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Last week the St. Louis Blues were on a five-game losing streak when they landed in Los Angeles to play the struggling Kings. After an impressive 3-1 victory that night, the Blues looked to be back to the team they were at the start of the season. Then they played San Jose and fell completely apart.

Four nights later the Blues will face the still-struggling Kings again, looking to gain traction in the Western Conference playoff race. Both teams are coming off difficult losses and are looking to right the ship at a critical moment in the season.

The Kings are more pressed for a win against St. Louis, as they have lost the last five games against the Blues dating back to last season. For LA to win, they are going to need Johnathon Quick to return to his early-season form in which he was dominating teams on a regular basis.

Quick has not fared well against the Blues in his career, as he has only beaten St. Louis once in seven games. Quick was in goal last week in the team’s 3-1 loss.

On the flip side, Jaroslav Halak is 3-0-0 against the Kings, including a win in the last game. Halak’s season is mirroring Quick’s year in that both started the year out with the hot hand and have both now cooled off.

The Blues could be welcoming back forward TJ Oshie tonight, his first game since breaking his ankle against Columbus. While not a guarantee to turn the scoring up to a high level, Oshie will bring a certain energy back to this team that it has been lacking.

Alex Steen has helped sustain the Blues in the standings in the absence of the top three forwards so far. Steen is on a four-game point streak, including a goal in the game against LA, and has points in 16 of the last 20 games. While David Backes is the team leader in the locker room, Steen is by far the MVP of this team in my mind.

The Blues will need to contain the ever-dangerous Anze Kopitar, who shreds this team game in and game out. In his 18 games against St. Louis, Kopitar has seven goals and 18 assists. Kopitar has only one goal in his last 10 games and is just itching for a breakout game.

The Kings sit one point ahead of the Blues in the Western Conference, and this game will be a big step toward securing a playoff spot. While the winner won’t jump into a playoff spot tonight, it will put them in a better position over the next two weeks.

Game time is 7 p.m. Central, and Oshie will be a game-time decision.