Jason Brough

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The Kings ‘don’t have a lot of scoring’ in their lineup, and it’s costing them

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Anze Kopitar scored 25 goals last season. And to boot, he was awarded the Selke Trophy.

Though the Kings’ captain is still playing good defense, with just three goals in 30 games, he’s on pace for the worst goal-scoring campaign of his NHL career. He’s getting shots, but for whatever reason, they’re not going in like they’ve done in the past. (See: Patrice Bergeron.)

Kopitar’s scoring struggles came into full focus last night in Vancouver, where the Kings lost, 2-1, and Kopitar was robbed by Ryan Miller on a brilliant chance.

The Kings were again missing Tyler Toffoli (injured reserve), and combined with Kopitar’s slump, it was perhaps no huge surprise they couldn’t battle back from a 2-0 deficit, even though they outshot the Canucks, 37-20.

“I just think that we don’t have a lot of scoring in our lineup, especially with Tyler out, and if you get down one, you’re fine, but if you get down two, you’re playing a different game then,” said head coach Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider.

L.A.’s leading goal-scorer is Jeff Carter, who has an impressive 19. Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are next, each with eight. Kopitar, as mentioned, has just three; Dustin Brown a mere four; and Marian Gaborik just one in 13 games.

The Kings, of course, did not re-sign Milan Lucic, who scored 20 for them last season. They brought in Devin Setoguchi, but he’s only managed four goals.

Add it up and the Kings have the NHL’s 22nd-ranked offense, and their 17-14-4 record is barely good enough for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

“We’re getting into a stretch where every game is critical,” Kopitar told the L.A. Times prior to last night’s game. “Not that it wasn’t before, but now it magnifies a little bit because of how tight it is in our division. Now we have four games in a row within our division, so it’s a big stretch for us.”

They already lost the first of those “critical” four. They’re in Edmonton tonight to take on the Oilers, then it’s two games with the Sharks, the first at home Saturday, the second on the road Tuesday.

Related: Marian Gaborik a healthy scratch for Kings

Panarin, Blackhawks come to terms on extension (Updated)

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The Chicago Blackhawks have come to terms on a contract extension with winger Artemi Panarin.

Latest Update: The team made the signing official on Thursday morning.

From The Athletic:

Artemi Panarin isn’t going anywhere.

Panarin and the Blackhawks finalized a contract extension on Wednesday, according to a source. The contract details are unknown at this point. The deal is expected to be announced on Thursday morning.

Panarin, 25, has 15 goals and 22 assists in 37 games. His 37 points are the most on the ‘Hawks, two more than Patrick Kane‘s 35.

Panarin was reportedly asking for at least $6 million per season on a long-term deal.

Updated: Since news of this extension broke, financial terms and length of the deal have started to filter in. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet is reporting that this new extension is for two years, a bridge deal, with $6 million average annual value.

It also appears there is considerable signing bonus associated with this contract.

Related: It’s a double-edged sword for the ‘Hawks, as Panarin keeps piling up the points

Pre-game reading: In today’s NHL, more defensemen are starring as teenagers

— Up top, check out the NHL’s Goals of the Week, featuring a pretty filthy toe drag by Derek Stepan.

— Remember when it was rare for a defensemen to make a big impact in the NHL without first spending a few years of developing? Yeah, not so much anymore. Teenagers like Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov are already stars for their teams. Aaron Ekblad is only 20, and he’s played almost 200 games for the Panthers. Sure, most d-men still need time after they’re drafted. But for the super-skilled guys, it’s a different story in today’s fast-paced NHL. (Associated Press)

— A neat story about a kid who turned his passion for hockey into a job with the Washington Capitals. “Ohashi’s journey — from obsessing over sports as a kid in Bethesda to studying psychology and mathematics at Bates to landing an internship and then a full-time job on Barry Trotz’s coaching staff for his favorite hockey team — is indeed the stuff of teenage dreams.” (Washington Post)

— Between the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, which team is more likely to maintain its winning ways? TSN’s Travis Yost says it’s the Jackets. “Columbus might be getting the majority of the bounces heading their way, but it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve it – they are obliterating their competition on a nightly basis and playing the vast majority of time in the offensive third.” As for the Wild, well, even if they do regress a bit, they’ve built a very nice playoff cushion. (TSN)

— Starting in the New Year, each team will get a “bye week” comprised of five days off, with no practices or games allowed. Click here for all the bye weeks. “It is a first for the league — and something the NHL Players’ Association negotiated last year as part of the new All-Star Game format. The players wanted a chance to rest their weary bones before the busy stretch run.” (ESPN)

— A list of the top 10 NHL stories of 2016. Number 1? That crazy day in June when Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson, P.K. Subban was traded for Shea Weber, and, oh yeah, Steven Stamkos re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

Edler expected to return for Canucks, who are desperate for wins

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Desperate for wins to get back in the playoff race, the Vancouver Canucks (14-18-3) should get a boost tonight against the Kings with the return of defenseman Alex Edler.

“I’ve felt good the last few days,” said Edler, who’s missed 13 games with a broken finger. “I’m looking forward to returning tonight.”

The Canucks still have injuries on the back end, most notably to Erik Gudbranson. But if Edler does return, it will mark the first time since Nov. 2 that he and Chris Tanev, Vancouver’s two best defensemen, will both be in the lineup.

Of course, it’s not all good news on the injury front. Winger Jannik Hansen is sidelined again, and that means Jayson Megna will join the Sedin twins on the first line — quite the opportunity for a 26-year-old with just nine career NHL goals.

“I’m super excited to skate with the Sedins,” said Megna. “I was on their line when I scored two goals in Tampa Bay.”

The Canucks have a very important stretch ahead of them. They host the Kings tonight, the Ducks Friday, then play Saturday in Edmonton. After that, it’s three more home games against Colorado, Arizona, and Calgary.

If they’re not back in the race by the end of that stretch, well, let’s just say things could get interesting in Vancouver. After all, the Canucks had higher expectations for themselves than most prognosticators had.

“I like our goaltending, I like our defense now and I like our center ice,” GM Jim Benning said back in October. “I can’t wait until the season starts.”

And yet, this season has looked a lot like last season, when injuries and a dearth of talent sunk the Canucks. Management had hoped the additions of Loui Eriksson and Gudbranson would help, but both players have under-delivered. Eriksson has just six goals in 35 games; Gubranson, when healthy, found it a struggle to make an impact in the defensive end.

Related: The Canucks have a big decision to make with Erik Gudbranson

Rain in the forecast for Winter Classic

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Rain is in the forecast for St. Louis on Monday, Jan. 2, and that could cause issues for the Winter Classic (on NBC) at Busch Stadium.

The Blues and Blackhawks are scheduled to start at just after 1 p.m. ET. Whether the game begins on time will depend on the amount of rain that’s falling. They can’t play if it’s heavy rain, but light showers are acceptable.

At the very least, it doesn’t appear as if glare will cause any problems for the players (like it’s done in the past), as the forecast for Jan. 2 does not include extended periods of sun.

From The Weather Network:

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Glare could, indeed, be an issue for the Centennial Classic, between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings, on Sunday, Jan. 1, in Toronto.

From The Weather Network:

weather2

The Leafs and Wings are scheduled to start at around 3 p.m. ET (on NBC). If it’s too sunny, the game could be delayed.