Narrow margin between Kings, Stars

If the term itself isn’t an oxymoron, this is another one of those “big midseason games.’’ Entering tonight, the Kings are two points ahead of the Dallas Stars for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The fact that the Stars have two games in hand only increases the importance of the game for the Kings. Three of the first four meetings between these teams have been one-goal games, and one went to overtime. The Kings are 2-1-1 against the Stars and will face them for the first time since Dec. 10, a 2-1 loss that was Terry Murray’s last game as coach. This is the Kings’ first game against Dallas with Darryl Sutter at the helm.

SUTTER: “We have to play a lot better tonight. Statistically, other than penalty killing, these teams are almost dead even in every category. Differential in goals for and against, power play. The only difference is, our penalty killing has been better than theirs. Everything else is just about dead on. So it comes down to your individual matchups, and how your top players perform against their top players. It’s the same old story, right? But it is. That’s why, when you look at these two teams, they’re so close together.’’

Sutter is over-stating things there a bit. The Kings are 30th in the league in goals per game, while the Stars are 12th. The Kings are 4th in goals-against per game, while the Stars are 20th. As Sutter noted though, both teams have struggled on the power play (27th and 26th), while the Kings are ranked second on the penalty kill and the Stars are 18th. Once again, Sutter stressed the importance of net-front play against the gritty Stars, as Sutter noted that “there aren’t very many first-shot goals in this league. Usually if there’s a first-shot goal, it’s (from) a mistake somewhere.’’ To that end, the Kings spent extensive time yesterday in practice on net-front drills, working on deflections and rebounds.

SUTTER: “You can do it on video all you want, but at the end of the day I think that’s kind of the easy way of doing it. I think the best way of doing it is to reinforce those good habits, or bad habits, and let them do it right. It’s just sort of a reinforcement of that. I think we’re getting better at it. We just have to continue to. Everybody has to be collectively better at it. It’s not just net presence and slot presence. Our defensemen have to be quicker, moving the pucks and getting shots through and changing the angle on the goaltender. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but we, as a defense, can do a lot better at changing the angle out at the blue line, which means the goalie has to move quick. Instead of just looking around somebody, he has to move quicker. I think that we can continue to work on that.’’

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