NHL Western Conference Battle: Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks

As the 2011-12 NHL hockey season winds down towards the always-exciting Stanley Cup Playoffs, the intensity and importance of each game remaining on the schedule increases, making every match-up with playoff implications an exciting addition to online sportsbook betting at one of the best sportsbooks reviewed right here. To kick off a new week of sportsbook bets, there’s no better NHL clash than the one tonight pairing the Vancouver Canucks (45-21-9, 99 pts) and the Los Angeles Kings (37-26-12, 86 pts), with face-off getting underway at 10:00 PM ET from the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

The Vancouver Canucks haven’t been playing at their best form down the home stretch of the season, going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, but that hasn’t prevented them from staying relevant in the fight for the most points in the NHL. Having already wrapping up their 4th Northwest Division title in a row , but coming into tonight’s match-up trailing the St. Louis Blues by 4 points for the Western Conference and NHL points lead, the Canucks still have plenty of motivation to hand the scrappy Los Angeles Kings a blow to their playoff hopes tonight. With the Kings deadlocked in a race for the Pacific Division title, but also sitting on the bubble for 7th and 8th place in the conference playoff seeding as well, you can be sure that Vancouver will be looking to add to their impressive winning total against the Kings at home, in the hopes of not having to see them in the first round (a likely scenario should L.A. squeak into a 7th spot, and the Canucks stay as a #2 seed). Though Vancouver has been impressive on home ice against the Kings, going 5-0-2 in their last 7 meetings at Rogers Arena, they will have to face L.A. tonight without their leading scorer Daniel Sedin (30 goals, 37 assists, 67 pts), who remains sidelined due to a concussion suffered in last week’s game at Chicago. That absence could be critical for the Canucks, especially as Sedin has an 11-game point streak against the Kings coming into tonight’s match-up. With the Kings having confidence against the Canucks, winning the last two games of the season series against them, having one of the two Sedin brothers missing from action will definitely be a factor to watch out for.

The Los Angeles Kings have been on a roll until suffering a setback on Saturday with a 4-2 loss at Boston, which snapped a season-high six-game winning streak for Daryl Sutter’s boys. Defense had been a key to Los Angeles’ success, not allowing more than 2 games to an opponent over that six-game stretch, however a meltdown in the third period against Boston, in which the Kings defense gave up 3 goals to lose the lead and the game, has L.A. resetting themselves for tonight’s crucial showdown. As the Kings enter a tour of the Northwest this week, defense, their main focus this season, has to be back on point against a Vancouver team that is near the top of the league in goal scoring, averaging 3.0 goals/game. That starts with goalie Jonathan Quick, who has been one of the most underrated goalies in the league this season, mainly due to his lack of scoring support. That lack of support is more than evident in this series with the Canucks, as Quick posts a fantastic 1.88 goals against average vs. Vancouver, yet is 4-6-1 over 11 starts. Stepping up against the Canucks’ Roberto Luongo, who is equally impressive against the Kings at a 3-1-1 record with a 1.97 GAA, is a must for the young Kings keeper, as goals will be tough to come by in hostile territory tonight.

For the Canucks, keys to their success tonight lie with their ability to have success via their vaunted power play, which ranks 3rd in the NHL at a 20.9 percent conversion rate. Though Daniel Sedin won’t be in action, the Canucks could get step-up play from brother Henrik, who leads the team in scoring and comes into tonight with 3 assists in the last two games. The Canucks also have to get better play from Alex Burrows (24 goals, 46 pts), who hasn’t registered a point in 5 games. Vancouver needs Burrows to start getting in gear heading into the playoffs, especially with Daniel Sedin not able to be in the lineup. Another huge boost for the Canucks could come via better play from Ryan Kesler (22 goals, 47 pts), who has also laid an egg scoring-wise in 5 straight games. Though getting through a scoring drought against the Kings, who have one of the league’s top defensive units, won’t be easy, Vancouver must see points tonight from Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and/or Alex Burrows to work their way past the fighting Kings tonight. Getting the puck in deep, working the crease in front of Jonathan Quick, and taking as many shots as possible at the young net-minder will be essential towards the Canucks getting another win on home ice.

On the Los Angeles side of things, getting to the 3-goal mark in the game will be the key challenge for Daryl Sutter’s crew tonight, along with holding back the tide of a talented Vancouver offense. Los Angeles has lost just once since January 12th when scoring 3 or more goals in a game, going 15-1 in that scenario. During their recent six-game winning streak, the Kings offense finally started to take off after having been absent for most of the year, and averaged 3.66 goals/game over that span. With L.A. ranking almost dead last in offensive production, averaging just 2.3 goals (29th) per contest, and struggling all year on the power play (15.7 percent, 21st in the NHL), getting back into their scoring groove immediately is the only way the Kings will overcome a tough closing schedule, where half their remaining games are on the road. That starts with getting the former Flyers’ players back into scoring mode tonight, with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards needing to step up. Mike Richards (16 goals) in particular has shown signs of coming alive after a lackluster year for his new Kings team. Going through a 25-game goal drought was certainly one of the main reasons for L.A.’s scoring woes throughout the middle of the year, as Richards was supposed to come in alongside Anze Kopitar, and provide a serious 1-2 goal scoring punch. With the addition of Jeff Carter as well (21 goals), there is no reason why L.A. can’t be one of the top scoring teams in the league, if they can all get on the same page. Against a strong Vancouver defense in opposition, the Kings will look to step up their shots on goal towards Roberto Luongo, and must find success against one of the league’s top penalty killing units. With L.A.’s power play a weakness coming in, a clutch goal with the man advantage would certainly serve to boost the confidence of the Kings on the road tonight.

Betting Lines for Vancouver Canucks vs. Los Angeles Kings at Oddsmaker Sportsbook

The Canucks get the nod as the favorite in tonight’s NHL clash, with -135 odds to win straight up. Interestingly though, Vancouver is just 2-4 straight up at home in its last 6 games at Rogers Arena. Meanwhile the Los Angeles Kings, +115 underdogs for this contest, are 4-2 straight up in their last 6 road games. However, the Canucks are 7-3 in their last 10 meetings at home against the Kings, despite dropping an overtime match-up with the Kings at home in the last showdown in Vancouver.

Against the spread, Los Angeles finds itself with -250 odds to cover +1.5 goals. The Kings are 4-3 in their last seven games ATS, while Vancouver is just 1-6 in their last 7 games against the spread. Vancouver gets +210 odds to cover 1.5 goals in tonight’s game, and against a tough defensive squad like Los Angeles, once again it’ll be hard for Vancouver to pull out a victory for spread pickers taking the Canucks.

The Over/Under is an interesting betting line for tonight’s contest, as the last 5 meetings between these two teams has gone under the points total. However for the Kings, the points total has gone over in 5 of their last 6 games as L.A.’s scoring has improved, and for Vancouver, 4 of their last 6 games at home have gone over the mark. With the over/under set at 5 tonight, you can bet the scoring will be tough to come by, and with two very good defensive units in front of two very good goaltenders, once again the underside of the total points line looks to be a great option for over/under pickers.

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