Kings and Jackets face off, surrounded by questions
The Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets are both in last place in their respective divisions, but these franchises are in vastly different situations.
While the Kings are trying to get on track to defend their first Stanley Cup title, the Blue Jackets are surrounded by questions after changing general managers ahead of Friday night's matchup at Staples Center.
This is the only home game for Los Angeles (4-5-2) within a nine-game stretch. The Kings completed a 2-3-0 road trip with Monday's 4-1 victory over St. Louis.
Columbus (4-7-2), meanwhile, fired general manager Scott Howson on Wednesday and replaced him with Jarmo Kekalainen, a Finnish native who becomes the first European GM in NHL history.
Kekalainen will arrive in Columbus as soon as travel and visa issues are resolved, but any sense of history for the Blue Jackets' European players is of secondary concern to fixing issues on the ice.
"I remember how it was with the first coach from Europe, when he coached in the NHL, it was always a topic," Czech winger Vinny Prospal said. "Here, this is a hard business, and you're only going to evaluate people, not where they are from but what they do and how hard they work."
The Blue Jackets are opening a six-game trip. The timing of Howson's dismissal caught them off guard after Columbus outshot Edmonton 40-14 in a 3-1 loss Sunday and ended a three-game slide with Monday's 6-2 victory over San Jose.
"Unfortunately something like that happens because of our performance on the ice," defenseman Jack Johnson said. "But it's our job as a team not let anything derail us, we have to keep moving forward and get ready to try to win a game on Friday."
Johnson will return to Los Angeles for the first time since the deal last Feb. 23 that sent Jeff Carter to the Kings.
These teams are meeting for the second time after the Kings won 4-2 on the road Feb. 5. Justin Williams had three assists, Carter had a power-play goal and Jonathan Quick made 18 saves to improve to 8-2-0 with a 1.99 goals against-average in his last 10 starts versus Columbus.
Backup Jonathan Bernier made 21 saves Monday in his first start. Quick has started every other game, but coach Darryl Sutter wants to see improvement from his No. 1 goaltender. Quick has allowed three goals in each of his last two games.
"We need him to play a hell of a lot better than he has," Sutter told the Kings' official website. "Our goals against, our save percentage, when you do all that stuff, it's not where it has to be."
Sutter also expects a different challenge from the Blue Jackets since James Wisniewski and Nikita Nikitin didn't play in the first meeting.
"They bring Wisniewski in, and they can pair the two Russians (Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin) together because they're healthy now, and pair Johnson and Wisniewski," the coach said. "That's a pretty formidable four guys, so that would be the difference from the last time."
Los Angeles is 9-3-0 in its last 12 against Columbus, which has come up empty in its last 39 power-play chances against the Kings.