It may be too early to put much stock in the standings for a tightly packed Western Conference, but Thursday night's matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars could have major implications down the road.
These Pacific Division rivals are separated by two points as they battle for position heading into this meeting at Staples Center.
The Kings (23-17-1) are in eighth place in the West and the Stars (21-15-7) are tied for ninth. The winner of this game will take the lead in the season series with only one meeting remaining - Feb. 12 in Dallas. The teams have split the first four, with three decided by one goal and the other a two-goal margin for the Kings thanks to an empty-netter.
Los Angeles is 3-1-1 heading into the finale of a six-game homestand while the Stars are finishing a two-game trip to Southern California.
"The division is tough and the conference is tough and you go from anywhere from 11th to 12th to third in one night," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's about sticking with about how we play. We're finishing off a six-game (run) at home here and we obviously want to hit the road on a good note."
These teams will meet for the first time since Sutter made his debut as coach Dec. 22 in a 2-1 home loss to Dallas. Los Angeles is 6-1-3 in that span after a 5-2 victory over Washington on Monday.
It may have been a breakout performance for the Kings, who had totaled two goals over their previous three games and remain last in the NHL at 2.09 per game.
"I don't know if anything is easy for us these days," said defenseman Jack Johnson, who had a goal and an assist. "But we finally scored some goals, which makes everything easier."
Backup Jonathan Bernier started Monday in net for the Kings. Regular starter Jonathan Quick is 3-1-1 with a 0.59 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last five starts, and 6-0-1 with a 1.71 GAA in his last seven against Dallas.
Los Angeles has excelled when short-handed, killing off 37 consecutive power plays - 31 under Sutter. The Kings lead the West at 89.1 percent.
Neither team has been productive on the power play in the season series, with Los Angeles 1 for 13 and Dallas 2 for 17.
The Stars have killed off 13 straight power plays, but they are 2 for 27 with the man advantage in their last nine games and have failed on their last 10 chances.
"It's just a matter of if one goes, then they'll start to come," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "We just haven't found that yet on the power play."
Dallas fell 5-2 at Anaheim on Tuesday after consecutive wins. The Stars came back from a two-goal deficit in the third period before conceding the final three.
Kari Lehtonen made 21 saves.
"This wasn't a top game for Kari, for sure," Gulutzan said. "He's an elite guy and this isn't his regular level, but I thought he gave us a chance to win and we were tied 2-2."
Left wing Jamie Benn has 10 points over his last five games and a team-high four this season versus Los Angeles.
Stars center Mike Ribeiro, third on the team with 31 points, will likely miss his second straight game with a slightly torn ligament in his right knee.