Written by Daniel MacDonald
It's a re-match of last spring's excellent first-round battle as the Los Angeles Kings (25-12-4, 3rd PAC 5th WC) visit the St. Louis Blues (27-7-5, 2nd CEN 3rd WC) tonight.
The game takes place at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis and is scheduled to start at 01:00 GMT & 08:00 PM ET.
The game is streaming live online with bet365.
Despite their excellent record, the Kings didn't exactly close out the calender year of 2013 with a bang; they are on a 4 game losing streak, which culminated in a 3-2 defeat at the hands of a mediocre Dallas Stars team on Tuesday. Thursday will mark the end of a four-game road trip, which hasn't exactly gone as hoped for a Kings squad looking to gain ground in the cutthroat Pacific Division.
Though he has had an entirely disappointing season to this point, Kings captain Dustin Brown (7-6, +12) named to the American Olympic team on Wednesday, a testament to his reputation as a leader and a game-changing two way force, rather than current form.
A representative for his country in Vancouver 2010, the Kings can only hope that the nomination perhaps gives Brown confidence and incentive to play better. As it stands right now, he is on pace for his worst offensive season since 2005-06, and is fast becoming one of the more over-valued players in the league.
This underproduction from Brown, 29, isn't a recent problem, either; he had only 4 points (3-1) in 18 playoff games last season, and his inability to score for the Kings was a huge reason they couldn't get past the eventual champion Blackhawks in the Western final. Bottom line, everyone expects him to be better. 2 points (1-1) in 10 games simply isn't going to cut it.
With incumbent starer Jonathan Quick still sidelined with a hip injury, unheralded Martin Jones (8-2-3, 1.29GAA .955SP) has been an absolute revelation in net for the Kings, and has likely ironed down the back-up position when Quick returns. Though he hasn't yet tipped his hat as to a Thursday starter, expect head coach Daryl Sutter to again lean on Jones against a tough Blues squad.
The Blues are in the midst of proving right all of the prognosticators who pegged them as a pre-season Stanley Cup favorite. They are riding a 3 game win streak, and have only 1 regulation loss in their last 11 games (8-1-2).
Three Blues received invitations on Wednesday to play for their country at the Sochi Olympics. Blues captain David Backes (16-14, +11) is a veteran of the Olympics, having participated for the Americans in Vancouver 2010. He will bring a bruising body and the ability to score, along with a fiercely competitive demeanor that USA brass hopes will rub off on the younger, more inexperienced members of the team.
Center TJ Oshie (6-27, +11) also received an invitation to represent the Americans. Sochi will be the first Olympic games for the young center, who is fast developing into one of the best puck distributors in the game. At 27, Oshie is coming into his prime, and is turning into one of the more underrated offensive stars on a Blues team which seems chock full of them. He has 6 points (2-4) from his last six games.
The other Blue to receive an Olympic invite was young defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (6-22, +9) who, at 24 years old, will be making his first Olympic appearance.
The Blues have been platooning their starting goaltenders of late, with Brian Elliot (10-1-2, 1.96GAA .922SP) achieving better results than Jaroslav Halak. Look for Elliot to get the start, coming off a strong 24 save win against Minnesota on Tuesday.
There is no love lost between these two clubs, after a mean and bruising 6 game playoff series last May. They play extremely similar styles, meshing offensive skill with responsible defense and punishing body-checking. In their first meeting of the season, the Kings used 2 goals from rookie Tyler Toffoli to beat St. Louis 3-2. It was a mean game, and much of the same should be expected on Thursday.
If you're looking for a favorite, consider the Kings record against St. Louis dating back to last season (including playoffs). They are 7-2 against St. Louis, and seem to be kryptonite for an otherwise excellent Blues squad. Look for the Kings to continue their solid form against St. Louis tonight, so long as their top offensive performers contribute at expected levels.