February 27 – Day 131 – Qui(c)k Trip to Minnesota

This Monday in the NHL is no different than many of the others in that there aren’t too many games on the schedule this evening. The staggered starts begin at 7 p.m. with Montréal at New Jersey (RDS), followed half an hour later by Ottawa at Tampa Bay (RDS2). Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) – drops the puck at 8 p.m. All times eastern.

Jonathan Quick‘s triumphant return to the ice Saturday has significantly increased Los Angeles‘ chances of making the playoffs, but they face a stiff test against the Wild tonight. What better way to see if they’re up to the task for a magical run?

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Just as I was prepared to count the Kings out of this year’s edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Quick reemerged from injured reserve and proved he is more than capable of resuming the high quality play we know he’s capable of. He proved that by allowing only one tally against the Ducks.

He resumes control of a team 30-27-4 Kings team that is currently three points outside a playoff spot, as it’s only fifth-best in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Quick’s return probably will have little impact on the offense, where it needs the most help. The Kings have managed only 149 goals  in 61 games this season, which ties for the sixth-worst scoring rate in the NHL.

The issue becomes immediately apparent when one analyzes the Kings‘ individual performances. Jeff Carter has had an incredible season and is far-and-away Los Angeles‘ brightest spot as his 30 goals and 55 points are both team-highs. But he leads second-best Tanner Pearson by 11 tallies and 18 points, a wildly large disparity.

Compare that same differential to Minnesota‘s much more well-rounded attack. Mikael Granlund, the Wild‘s leading point-scorer, has 55 points to his name, only nine more than Mikko Koivu. Similarly, he and Nino Niederreiter – who both have 19 tallies – lead Jason Zucker‘s effort by only one goal.

Not surprisingly, the offense continues to struggle even when presented with the man-advantage. Even with Carter’s 16 power play points and nine extra-man goals, the Kings have found success only 16.7% of the time, the seventh-worst rate in the league.

What’s kept Los Angeles alive this season is that as bad as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been good. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 26 shorthanded shot blocks, the Kings have properly defended 84.5% of opposing power plays, the fifth-best effort in the NHL.

Of course, no matter how good Quick looked against Anaheim, the Wild is a far superior opponent. Even more alarming, it’s not even the offense that makes this team the best team in both the Central Division and the West. Instead, it’s the incredible play of their netminder, who has allowed only 136 goals against – the second-fewest in the league.

To put things simply, 32-11-3 Devan Dubnyk has been one of, if not the best goaltender in the NHL this season. Not only is his .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA the best in the State of Hockey, but they’re also the best and second-best marks, respectively, in the league.

His effort is made only more impressive by the fact that he faces an average of 31 shots-per-game, the (t)10th-highest rate in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon has done all he can to limit his netminder’s work with 106 shot blocks, but he’s the only skater with more than 80 to his credit. But, with as well as Dubnyk, is playing, I doubt Bruce Boudreau will hear him complain too much.

The Wild continue to be an impenetrable force even when they’re down a man, as their 83.1% penalty kill rate is 10th-best in the league. Just has he does at even-strength, Spurgeon headlines the penalty kill, as his 15 shorthanded blocks lead the club.

The Wild‘s penalty kill is good, maybe even great, but their power play is even better. Actually, to be more specific, it’s tied for best in the league with Toronto, as both are successful on 22.8% of attempts. Granlund headlines that attack with his 17 power play points, but it’s Niederreiter who will keep Quick on his toes. The Swiss wing has buried eight extra-man goals, the most on the squad.

On January 7, the Wild made their annual trek to the Staples Center to face Los Angeles, and they almost came away with two points. Instead, Pearson scored an overtime winner to give the Kings a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (30 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (32 wins on a .933 save percentage [both best in the NHL] and a 2.01 GAA [second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+29 [seventh-best in the league]), Koivu (+30 [sixth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+33 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]).

With Minnesota favored -145 by Vegas, I’d be very surprised if the Kings manage to even force overtime this evening. Abysmal might be a compliment for this offense, and it will be made only worse by the overpowering play of Dubnyk. The Wild should continue to fight for the Western lead with relative ease this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Braydon Coburn (1985-) – Currently playing his third season in Tampa Bay, this defenseman was originally selected eighth-overall by Atlanta in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Most of his 12-season career was spent in Philadelphia, and he was a member of that 2010 Flyers team that won the Eastern Conference from the seven-seed.
  • Dustin Jeffrey (1988-) – Drafted in the sixth-round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, he last appeared in the league with Arizona in the 2015-’16 season.

Twice scoring two goals in a period, the Columbus Blue Jackets took it to the Rangers in Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 5-2.

Only 1:02 into the game, First Star of the Game Alexander Wennberg (David Savard and Oliver Bjorkstrand) got the Jackets‘ attack started with a tip-in tally. Rick Nash (Jimmy Vesey and Derek Stepan) pulled New York back even with his snap shot 3:05 later, but a Second Star Cam Atkinson (Sam Gagner and Zach Werenski) power play snapper at the 6:47 mark once again gave the Blue Jackets a lead. That 2-1 score held into the first intermission.

The same man to strike first in the opening frame took credit for the lone tally of the second. Wennberg’s (Bjorkstrand) 12th goal of the year was a backhanded shot at the 9:47 mark of the period, and proved to be the eventual game-winner.

The Wennberg-Atkinson pattern continued 4:12 into the final frame, as Atkinson (Brandon Dubinsky) buried a snapper to give Columbus a 4-1 lead. With 24 seconds remaining in the game, Josh Anderson (William Karlsson and Scott Hartnell) scored the Jackets‘ final tally of the night, followed by Jesper Fast‘s (Marc Staal and Oscar Lindberg) goal with a second remaining on the clock.

Third Star Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%).

It’s been nine days since a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has lost. That incredible streak has given the 69-43-21 visitors an 11-point lead over hosts.

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