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Kings at Sharks Preview: Buy one, get one free on goals

The Los Angeles Kings (11-9-2, third Pacific) visit the San Jose Sharks (7-12-3, seventh Pacific) for the first time this season. The Kings are coming off a 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night despite goals from newcomer Kevin Fiala, goals-leader Gabriel Vilardi and Sean Walker. San Jose is reeling from a defense-optional game in Seattle where Timo Meier’s hat trick was not enough to stop an 8-5 loss to the Kraken.

The very sharp California Golden Seals-inspired Reverse Retro jerseys will make their debut against the Kings, but the NHL is too cowardly to let both teams wear white sweaters at the same time, meaning LA will be wearing home jerseys in SAP Center.

The Kings were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL last season, finishing with a 44-27-11 record and 99 points, good for third in the Pacific Division. They lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs in seven games, but announced that the rebuild was officially over and the team was ready to start competing again. The trade deadline had been relatively quiet, adding a rental in defender Troy Stecher from the Detroit Red Wings for a 2022 seventh-round pick.

Over the off-season, general manager Rob Blake acquired forward Kevin Fiala from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a 2022 first-round pick and a former second-round pick, defender Brock Faber. Fiala inked a seven-year, $55 million contract that will have the former Nashville Predators first-round pick in black and silver through the 2028-29 season.

The rest of the off-season was spent taking care of extending players, including Adrian Kempe who signed a four-year, $22 million extension after scoring a career-high 35 goals and 54 points. Blake also re-signed Swedish Deathemetal guitarist Carl Grundstrom to a two-year, $2.6 million deal, and was able to get Brendan Lemieux to bite on a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.

Heading into tonight, Alex Iafallo is on long-term injured reserve after suffering a lower-body injury on Oct. 17. Lemieux was placed on IR on Nov. 14 and is considered week-to-week with rabies a lower-body injury. Sean Durzi is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

For Team Teal, James Reimer is a game-time decision after missing the trip to Seattle. Aaron Dell was called on up on an emergency loan so he does not need to pass through waivers when Reimer returns. Nico Sturm is on IR, but has been practicing after being a late scratch on Monday. Radim Simek has been reactivated from IR and could draw in after the Sharks’ “defensive” effort on Tuesday.

Another barn burner?

The Kings quietly have turned into an offensive machine this season. The team ranks seventh in Corsi for percentage (CF%) at 52.65, fifth in expected goals (xGF) at 46.7 and ninth in high-danger chances for percentage (HDCF%) at 53.75. The Sharks have decided to lean into the ‘defense is for nerds’ mantra and rank 22nd in CF% at 48.61, seventh in xGF at 45.8 and seventh in HDCF% at 54.26.

Both teams try to cover the issues between the pipes by outscoring the problem and the Kings have been better at doing so this season.

San Jose has been on a different team since returning from the East Coast trip. Only three games of the last 14 have seen the team produce two or fewer goals. In the past two weeks, David Quinn’s offense has been producing with three five-goal performances and another four-goal performance. While they haven’t been producing as many wins, the hockey is more exciting than the Bob Boughner-era Sharks.

Draft Kings has the over/under set at six goals and this feels very much an over type of game.

Logan Couture renaissance?

The Captain has been flying under the radar while Erik Karlsson has been busy burning down the NHL, but since Alexander Barabanov has been put on his wing, Couture has been a different player. Couture still his ability to snipe when he gets a chance, but he has turned into a borderline elite dirty goal player. His ability to tip, win battles in front of the net and slam home rebounds has helped him to turn back the clock to start the season.

Barabanov’s ability to protect the puck and use his vision to pass has been a huge boost to Couture, who no longer has to carry a revolving door of wingers. In 150 minutes at 5-on-5, Couture and Barabanov have created seven high-danger goals and given up one. In 124 minutes at 5-on-5 without Barabanov, Couture has given up five high-danger goals and produced zero.

This a perfect example of having linemates whose skills sync up perfectly. Couture can add a strong defensive presence down the center and score close goals, while Barabanov can handle the load of the transition game and use his vision and underrated passing skills to find Couture up close.

Why not empty-net hockey?

The defensive effort against the Kraken was … lacking. Netminder Kaapo Kahkonen has had a tough start after signing a two-year deal this off-season. The good news is that Los Angeles’ goaltenders have been equally as bad. Last season, Jonathan Quick had the seventh-best goals saved above expected at 17.8. This year, regression has hit like a truck.

Immortal James Reimer is the best goaltender (potentially) available for this game, but if Kahkonen is in net, a potential blood bath is on the table. Both offenses are humming right now and the goaltending is … bad. Kahkonen saved two of six high-danger shots against the Kraken after going a perfect 8-for-8 against the Ottawa Senators. Cal Petersen is posting a league-worst .357 high danger save percentage (HDSV%), and Quick’s is .688.

Both teams are efficient at creating high-danger opportunities, so this feels like a great opportunity to score goals.

Bold Prediction: Timo Meier gets his second hat trick this week, but the defense can’t keep up. 6-4 Kings win.

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