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With its defense improved, the Wild heads out west where the streaking LA Kings await

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The Kings are on fire right now, but Bruce Boudreau has Minnesota playing with the structure to stop formidable opponents.

Los Angeles Kings v Minnesota Wild Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

MINNESOTA WILD AT LOS ANGELES KINGS

9:00PM Central, Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

TV: NBCSN

Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates

Streaming: NBC Sports App

There, see? Nate Prosser is back with the Wild, so now everything is fine. Minnesota’s chi was just a bit off for the first two months of the season, but now that the Christmas gift that is “The Pride of Elk River” has been delivered (again) to the State of Hockey, the balance in our universe has been restored. Lest you forget, the Wild is now 2-0 since dumping Kyle Quincey and replacing him with Prosser. Coincidence? Me thinks… probably.

BUT… The Wild is legitimately back on track, playing well defensively these past two games in front of excellent goaltending, and it’s doing that despite the lack of Jared Spurgeon, who now apparently will be out for at least a month, per The Athletic.

The Wild now embarks on the ever-challenging swing through California, starting tonight in LA, where it takes on Darcy Kuemper Christian Folin, Marian Gaborik, Marian Gaborik’s oft-injured-but-currently-healthy groin, and the rest of the Kings. Minnesota remarkably took five out of a possible six points on this demanding trip last season, with its only loss coming in overtime against LA. I remember that road trip well, because as I blogged about it, I was enjoying margaritas on my balcony in sunny and beautiful Cabo San Lucas. Sadly, I’m on no such vacation during this season’s version of the Wild’s Cali trip.

With the way things went for this team during November, a similar outcome on this year’s jaunt out west would be seen as an almost shocking success. But perhaps a new leaf has in fact been turned, now that we’re into the final month of the calendar year.

The Kings are smokin’ hot right now, but by my math, they’re way overdue for a loss.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

The Kings have won five straight, including a perfect four-game road trip through Detroit, Washington, St. Louis, and Chicago, and they have now surpassed the Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the Pacific Division. During this hot streak, they have only allowed 1.2 goals per game, while scoring 3.6 per game, so you could say they’re playing a pretty good brand of hockey right now.

The good news is that a team coming back from a long and arduous road trip—complete with back-to-backs, several time changes, and emotionally draining matchups—tends to look a bit lethargic in its first game home, as we see from the Wild pretty much every time it returns home from a road trip of any length (I kid, I kid). Like I said, LA is ripe for a loss, and tonight is as good a night as any for the Kings to be dethroned.

If only the Wild still had Darcy Kuemper to play against the Kings in the only building where he seemed to consistently play well. Alas, the Kuemperor has been demoted from Kuemperor to Kuemperking, which just doesn’t have the same ring to it. The enigmatic netminder has done extremely well in his new surroundings, though, so far posting a 1.72 GAA and .944 save percentage in ten games in La La Land. As I wrote here many times last season, Kuemper is an extremely skilled and athletic goaltender, and when confident, he is truly among the best in the league. He has finally found that confidence again in his new home, so I, for one, am quite happy for the guy. Sadly, it doesn’t sound like we’ll get to see the grudge match tonight…

Instead, we’ll likely get two-time Stanley Cup winning, one-time Conn Smythe winning, all-world netminder Jonathan Quick, so that’s a nice consolation prize. Hopefully Quick, Drew Doughty, and Anze Kopitar (Jeff Carter was involved too, but he is out long-term with an injury, as we’ll discuss later) will watch the video below to mentally prepare to get torched tonight.

Always an exceptional two-way player, Kopitar is on pace for the best offensive season of his storied career, with fourteen goals and seventeen assists already in the books for the Slovenian pivot. The pesky Dustin Brown is also having his best offensive season in a decade, with eleven goals and twelve assists.

After a tumultuous final season for former coach Darryl Sutter, it’s safe to say that these Kings have re-found themselves under new benchboss John Stevens. The Wild will need its best tonight.

STORYLINES

Bruce Boudreau continues to impress as Minnesota’s head coach, constantly making adjustments to repair deficiencies in the Wild’s game. His team ran all over the ice and looked completely lost in two games against the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets last week, a pair of contests that resulted in his team giving up thirteen combined goals. But after the Winnipeg game, he told the media that there were quite a few aspects that he intended to address in the team’s upcoming practice, the only one it would have before it’s next matchup with Vegas.

The team focused on battle drills and structure in that one practice before coming out against the VGK’s and looking like a cohesive unit in all three zones for the first time in a llllloooooong while. After hearing him vow to fix the power play a few weeks ago and then... just... doing it, we should have expected nothing less than vast defensive improvement once Bruce indicated that changes were coming. He couldn’t have been thrilled with his team getting nearly doubled up on shots against St. Louis on Saturday, but the vast majority of the Blues’ attempts did come from outside, another very positive sign that this team is getting back to playing a solid game structurally. It must maintain this form to have a shot tonight.

The Great Suter-Dumba Experiment of 2017 took another step toward being deemed a successful endeavor Saturday. Suter scored the game’s first goal on a bank shot off of Jake Allen from behind the net, and Dumba—looking more confident than we’ve seen him look all season—scored the game winner in overtime after scooping up the puck in the defensive zone and flying up the ice with Charlie Coyle for a nice give-and-go. If this improved play by Dumba can continue, and Prosser can actually help calm things down a bit with the bottom pairing (he really did that last game, except for his one ugly turnover that Devan Dubnyk stopped), then it does suddenly seem a little less farfetched for this team to sustain a long absence from The Spurgeon General.

INJURIES

No Zach Parise and no Spurgeon.

Carter is out indefinitely after sustaining a scary cut on the back of his leg by a skate blade on October 19th. Kyle Clifford has been out for two months with an upper body injury, and is not close to a return, per Rotoworld.

The Gamethread will post at 8:30PM, so swing on by! Below are the projected lineups, thanks to DailyFaceoff.com. Thanks for reading!