Photo: AP

The big news out of the Los Angeles Kings’ camp in the last month is the dismissal of veteran no-nonsense coach Terry Murray and the hiring of veteran no-nonsense coach Darryl Sutter. The general consensus among the pundits based outside of California was, “There’s a difference?” Murray was implementing a defense-based system, and getting buy-in from the superstar offensive weapons like Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards was difficult. Sutter will implement the same system, so how is that going to improve things?

The jury is still out, as Sutter has only 3 games under his belt as coach, notching 2 wins and a loss — about on par with what the team has been doing the rest of December. But as there is a history between Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi (former GM at San Jose who hired Sutter to coach the Sharks during his tenure there), expect Sutter to get several years to get the team to follow his lead.

The key problem for Los Angeles is offense. In 12 games thus far in December, they have scored more than 2 goals in regulation exactly once. And folks, that includes the games they WON. Granted, they have allowed the seventh-fewest goals against in the league, an impressive stat. But when you are also scoring the second-fewest, that’s bad. If Sutter can get the second stat up while keeping the first one down, he’s got a chance at making the playoffs.

As it stands, the Kings are out of the playoffs by a point, and have a tough road to get themselves back in. Forcing your goaltenders to carry the load for a team not producing enough offense is eventually going to backfire. The Kings’ starting netminder Jonathan Quick is standing on his head pretty much every night, holding on to a 2.15 GAA and a .927 save percentage. You can’t expect your goalie to bail your ass out every night, and scoring 2 goals or less every single time you take the ice is going to wear him out pretty fast. Backup Jonathan Bernier can’t shoulder even part of that burden, as his 2-4-0 record suggests. Something’s gotta give.

However, we’re quite happy to receive the flaccid Kings to the United Center, especially with a Blackhawks team that is seeing some minor juggling going on. All were surprised to see (or more to the point, NOT see) Patrick Kane, Marcus Kruger and Steve Montador miss practice on Tuesday morning. Montador just had a maintenance day, he is not injured and will definitely play on Wednesday. Kane apparently started seeing strep throat symptoms on Christmas Eve, and apparently took a day off on Tuesday to recuperate.  But Kruger is apparently seeing a re-surfacing of concussion-like symptoms after the Columbus game.

Of course, that’s not official. According to the team he has a toothache. No, hold on: it’s leprosy. Sorry, my bad: hairline fracture of the left scapula. Oops, that’s not it either — it’s dengue fever…

It’s time that the teams be required to disclose a concussion when it’s a concussion, and have a doctor be responsible for the diagnosis. No more of this we-won’t-say-anything-because-we-want-him-back-in-the-lineup-faster horse-shit. They’re endangering their players’ health and well-being, and the league needs to put a stop to it — today. Donald Fehr, are you paying attention?

At any rate, Blackhawks fans have had a lot to be happy about this December, with the team winning 9 of 11 games so far this month. That’s a great way to end the year, and gives us a boost going into January — when the schedule gets far more difficult.

Starting this Friday and running through the All-Star break, the Blackhawks face Philly, Minnesota, San Jose, a pair against Nashville, and Detroit (*spitting noise*) — THREE games against Detroit (*spitting noise*). We have a few less difficult games against Edmonton, Colorado, Columbus and Florida to break up the monotony, but even those teams can sometimes jump up and bite you in the ass — see our catastrophic 9-2 loss to the Oilers on November 19th if you think I’m kidding.

This is likely the make-or-break part of the season for this Blackhawks team: we come through strong, it’s our Conference to lose. Otherwise, we may find ourselves clawing and scratching our way to get home-ice advantage for the playoffs. All of the pieces are there, and even on nights when the Blackhawks aren’t playing their best hockey, they still find ways to win. They’ll need to tap into that bootstrap determination and put in 110% effort for a full 60 minutes to get past many of these teams. Here’s hoping they start tonight.

Administrative nonsense: Los Angeles forward Simon Gagne was just diagnosed with a concussion and will not play. Kaner was at practice this morning, and will likely play; expect Freddy to be out of the lineup; and word from practice this morning is that Daniel Carcillo won’t play until Friday. That likely means we will see John Scott on the fourth line, and youngster Brandon Pirri will be taking the ice to continue his strong play. Corey Crawford is the announced starter for Chicago, LA will more than likely start Jonathan Quick.

7:30pm start tonight, and the game will be televised on Comcast SportsNet; broadcast radio is WGN AM-720 as is usually the case; XM subscribers should tune in on channel 214; Sirius Premiere customers will find the game on channel 213.

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