Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
Los Angeles Kings
45-29-8, 98 points, 4th in the Pacific Division
1st Wild Card in the West, swept in the First Round by VGK 4-0
Subtractions: F Andy Andreoff (traded to TB), F Andrew Crescenzi (signed, Austria), D Christian Folin (signed with PHI), D Kevin Gravel (signed with EDM), F Michael Mersch (signed with DAL), F Torrey Mitchell (signed, Switzerland), F Tobias Rieder (signed with EDM), D Jordan Subban (signed with TOR), G Scott Wedgewood (signed with BUF)
Still Unsigned: F Justin Auger
Re-signed: D Paul LaDue, D Alex Lintuniemi, D Kurtis MacDermid
Offseason Analysis: Cash-strapped in the era of the salary cap and nearing the end of their Stanley Cup contention window, the Los Angeles Kings went out and signed 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal worth $6.250 million per season.
Normally, $6.250 million per season isn’t a terrible deal, especially on a three-year contract for a player that’s over 30. One of the problems with this deal, however, is that Kovalchuk is 35.
By the end of his current contract he’ll be 38.
With just over $2.100 million in cap space right now, the Kings have all but sealed their fate to a rebuild after Kovalchuk’s playing days are done– assuming he’s going to retire for the second time after the 2020-21 season.
Anze Kopitar (31) isn’t getting any younger, despite being under contract at $10.000 million through 2023-24. Dustin Brown (33) is signed for the next four-years and the same goes for Jeff Carter (33). Los Angeles’s core group of forwards is aging– and aging fast without anything screaming up the depth charts.
Half of their forwards are 31 or older.
On defense, Jake Muzzin‘s turning 30 in February, Dion Phaneuf (33) and Alec Martinez (31) lead the way among older blue liners. Oh yeah and Drew Doughty (28) is in the final year of his $7.000 million AAV contract.
Don’t worry, Kings fans, General Manager Rob Blake took care of any doubts about Doughty’s future by signing the star defender to an eight-year extension beginning in 2019-20 at $11.000 million per season.
That raise of $4.000 million? Yeah, that doesn’t help the cap situation. No amount of Norris Trophy’s or Selke Trophy’s can counteract rising salaries– in fact, they don’t help negotiations from a general manager’s perspective.
But why worry about the future when Los Angeles is trying to win one more Cup now?
After all, starting goaltender Jonathan Quick is 32-years-old and on a friendly $5.800 million per season through 2022-23. When things start to tumble, the Kings can flip Quick and retain some salary to… well, let’s not think about that– let’s assume Quick will be a King for life.
There’s no bright scenario on the horizon for Los Angeles. Time is ticking away.
While head coach John Stevens looks to improve from last season’s 45-29-8 record (98 points) on the season, he’s looking at doing so with an aging core and on the backs of a 32-year-old starting goalie and 36-year-old backup (Peter Budaj). Unless Jack Campbell, 26, is finally ready to emerge as an NHL backup.
Oh and Stevens is at the helm of a team in California (did anybody see the Erik Karlsson trade the other day? The San Jose Sharks got a lot better, like, as good as– if not better than– the Nashville Predators defense)– let alone the rest of the Pacific Division (hello Vegas Golden Knights).
But less about the worries for the Kings and more about just what will Kovalchuk do in his NHL return?
He last had a 31-point season (11 goals, 20 assists) for the New Jersey Devils in 37 games during the lockout shortened 48-game 2012-13 season. Prior to that Kovalchuk had 37-46–83 totals in 77 games with the Devils in 2011-12, which was, oh yeah that season New Jersey went on to face the Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final (he had one point in that series).
Then came the summer of 2012 when “Kovy” retired. This, of course, came two-years into his
17-year (whoops, cap circumvention) 15-year, $100 million contract that he signed with New Jersey in 2010.
Devils fans felt cheated, not that Atlanta Thrashers fans had already felt betrayed by Kovalchuk leaving their team for New Jersey in the first place.
Kovalchuk returned to Russia, signing a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg (KHL), where he went on to have 16-24–40 totals in 45 games in 2013-14, then 55 points (54 games played) in 2014-15 , 49 points (50 GP) in 2015-16, 78 points (60 GP) in 2016-17 and 31-32–63 totals (53 GP) in 2017-18 with the club.
So he hasn’t lost his scoring touch.
At least, that’s what Stevens and Blake are hoping. A lot has changed in the NHL since his departure, namely speed and skill. It’s not a question of whether Kovalchuk can put pucks in the net, but rather, can he skate with the rest of the league’s teams zooming around on the ice?
Especially as the Kings continue to rely on a burly version of the game– one that still emphasized more physicality than other teams, despite Stevens’s refined approach last season.
Keeping a watchful eye on the stars in Los Angeles isn’t an uncommon thing. For Kovalchuk, it’s about to be part of his life again, but on a bigger scale than Atlanta or New Jersey.
Offseason Grade: B-
By default, landing one of 2018’s top unrestricted free agents not named John Tavares means the Los Angeles Kings improved and deserve an “above-average” rating for their offseason marks. But the Kings didn’t get any younger and let some expendable assets (Tobias Rieder, Kevin Gravel and Christian Folin) walk that helped spread a little depth down the lineup when necessary.
This season and next offseason are crucial to the future direction of the organization, what with Adrian Kempe, 22, entering the final year of his entry-level contract this season and that salary cap thing again. Things cannot remain stagnant for too long.
Or else the Kings might be the next Chicago Blackhawks.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Los Angeles Kings and their outlook for the summer.
The Los Angeles Kings got off to a bit of a hot start battling for 1st place in the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights in the first month or two of the 2017-18 season before cooling off a bit.
Still, first year head coach John Stevens commanded his team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, with a 45-29-8 record and 98 points on the season– good enough for 4th in the Pacific and the first wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Despite reaching the postseason, the Kings faced the Golden Knights in the First Round and were swept in a low scoring series.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
General Manager Rob Blake embarks upon his second entry draft with Los Angeles and the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft Friday night in Dallas.
Blake will likely yield one of the following players in Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac, Ryan Merkley, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Rasmus Sandin, Akil Thomas or Albin Eriksson.
Pending free agents
This offseason is a big deal for Los Angeles. The Kings have about $3.900 million in cap space currently and a headache looming on the horizon next summer, but we’ll get into that in a minute or two.
Pending unrestricted free agent forward, Torrey Mitchell, 33, was acquired by the Kings in a trade early in the season with the Montreal Canadiens, whereby Mitchell went on to produce 6-5–11 totals in 60 games with Los Angeles and Montreal.
A durable bottom-six forward, the Kings are cash-strapped and probably cannot re-sign him in their current state.
More importantly, Los Angeles is tied to discussions with Ilya Kovalchuk, meaning someone on the roster currently would have to be moved to free up enough cap space to sign the 35-year-old prolific scorer looking to return to NHL action.
Blake has two options for the Kings heading into 2018-19.
Stay the course and grow as a team that’s been implementing a younger, faster game to stay competitive while hitting everything in sight (as has always been the Kings way) or move too quickly to attract too much talent in the short term without planning for a future like how Los Angeles got into their rash of inconsistent postseason appearances– whereby the team is up against the ceiling as the cap stands, regardless of its projected increase.
Tobias Rieder, 25, was traded by the Arizona Coyotes to the Kings along with Scott Wedgewood in exchange for Darcy Kuemper in February and went on to produce 12-13–25 totals in 78 games with Los Angeles and Arizona this season.
Whether he was a rental or not, we’ll find out if he gets re-signed.
Los Angeles only has two pending free agent defenders in 26-year-old Kevin Gravel and 27-year-old Chrisitan Folin.
Gravel appeared in 16 games for the Kings this season and had three assists. He played in 49 games with Los Angeles in 2016-17, recorded his first career NHL goal and likely won’t be back with the Kings on their NHL roster next season.
Folin, on the other hand, participated in 65 games this season with the Kings, which was the most he’s ever played since joining Los Angeles after spending 2013-17 with the Minnesota Wild. Folin recorded 3-10–13 totals with the Kings and was a plus-1.
Of course, the real wild card here for Los Angeles is the status of their anchor on the blueline– Drew Doughty.
Doughty’s current contract expires at the end of the 2018-19 season and has a $7.000 million cap hit. That’s about to go way up.
Again, thankfully, Blake and his front office have a season to try to figure out where the money is going to come from. Nevertheless, it makes longterm planning difficult. Especially given how Doughty has indicated he will want to get paid. Big time.
One more thing of note, Oscar Fantenberg is currently in the minors and could play a role in either a trade package or a top-6 spot on the blueline next season.
In goal, 32-year-old, Jonathan Quick is under contract through the 2022-23 season with a $5.800 million cap hit. The elite goaltender still has a few more good years left in him and could backstop the franchise to its third Cup with him at the reins in net.
Peter Budaj, 35, was acquired last week in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forward Andy Andreoff. Budaj rejoins the Kings organization for his second stint and could end up being Quick’s backup or back in the American Hockey League with the Ontario Reign next season. He has one-year remaining on his current deal and a $1.025 million cap hit.
In the pipeline between the pipes, 26-year-old Jack Campbell resurrected his professional career with Los Angeles, finishing the 2018 postseason as Quick’s backup and is under contract through the 2019-20 season at $675,000 per. Meanwhile, 23-year-old, Cal Petersen has one-year remaining on his entry-level contract and is looking to break through the ice at the NHL level.
Competition for the backup job in Los Angeles isn’t a bad thing.
It’s how Jonathan Bernier and Martin Jones came out of the system and landed full-time roles with the Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks, respectively (though Bernier’s bounced around from being a starter in Toronto, back to a backup role with the Leafs, Anaheim Ducks and most recently, Colorado Avalanche).
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
The longest Stanley Cup Playoff game in franchise history— no, not just Vegas Golden Knights history, but for the Los Angeles Kings too— ended shortly after 95 minutes of play.
Erik Haula scored the game-winning goal at 15:23 of double overtime to give the Golden Knights a 2-1 victory in Game 2 at T-Mobile Arena on Friday and a 2-0 series lead heading into Games 3 and 4 at Los Angeles.
Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, made 29 saves on 30 shots against for a .967 save percentage in 95:11 time on ice in the win. Meanwhile, Kings goalie, Jonathan Quick, stopped 54 shots out of 56 shots faced for a .964 SV% in 95:16 TOI in the loss.
It almost took 13 minutes, but at 12:51 of the first period, the first penalty was called in the game after both teams swapped pleasantries that went “unnoticed” leading up to Kyle Clifford’s goaltender interference minor. The Golden Knights went on their first power play of the night.
While on the power play, Reilly Smith found Jonathan Marchessault open in the slot and sent a pass that Marchessault then translated to a shot just wide of the net. The puck caromed off the boards to the right of Quick and Alex Tuch (1) caught the puck on his stick and fired it into the net before Quick could get into position.
Marchessault (1) and Smith (1) notched the assists on Tuch’s power play goal and the Golden Knights broke out with a 1-0 lead late in the first period.
With 2:02 remaining in the period, Marchessault caught Los Angeles forward, Jeff Carter, with a slash and served some time in the penalty box. The Kings were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.
Vegas led 1-0 on the scoreboard and 12-5 in shots on goal after 20 minutes of play.
The Golden Knights emerged from the first intermission refreshed and ready to go— controlling the game as much as they had been in the first period— but were unable to capitalize on two straight power plays in the first half of the second period. Dion Phaneuf and Trevor Lewis served minor penalties for roughing and tripping, respectively, at 3:51 and 10:12 of the second period.
And then things looked a little different.
It didn’t take long for Los Angeles to convert on the resulting man advantage and tie the game.
Paul LaDue (1) fired a shot that deflected off of Vegas defenseman, Deryk Engelland, past Fleury at 15:55 of the second period to even the game, 1-1. Phaneuf (1) and Michael Amadio (1) had the assists on LaDue’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal in just his second career NHL postseason game. Amadio’s assist on the goal was his first career Stanley Cup point.
After 40 minutes of play at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights and Kings were tied, 1-1.
Vegas was outshooting Los Angeles, 26-12, and led in takeaways, 10-6. Meanwhile, the Kings led in hits (47-34), giveaways (8-3) and controlling the faceoff dot, winning 64-36% of faceoffs through two periods. Both teams had blocked 10 shots each and converted on one of their power plays (LA was 1/2, VGK was 1/3 through two periods).
The third period brought more end-to-end action lots of offensive zone dominance by Vegas. Los Angeles kept stockpiling the hit total (68-45 after 60 minutes). Vegas led in shots on goal, 35-20, after regulation.
There were no penalties called in the third period and no goals were scored, so it was on to sudden death overtime for the first time in Golden Knights history.
Overtime started as all Stanley Cup Playoff overtime games do— at a frantic pace.
Almost halfway through the first overtime, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare attempted to clear the puck, but instead sent it clear over the glass. An automatic two-minute minor penalty for delay of game was assessed.
The Golden Knights penalty kill stood tall and killed it off, even having pressured Los Angeles on a shorthanded breakout.
After 80 minutes of play, the score was still tied 1-1.
Vegas was leading in shots on goal (47-27) and takeaways (19-11), but the Kings were leading in blocked shots (27-21), hits (75-50) and faceoff win% (56-44). Both teams were 1/3 on the power play through regulation-plus-one-overtime period.
Double overtime started with a much slower frenzy than the first overtime. The fans at T-Mobile Arena were as loud as ever and waiting to burst with euphoria should their team win.
Entering the second overtime, Vegas had 90 shot attempts. Los Angeles had 61.
Tanner Pearson broke up a pass from Marchessault intended for Smith that would have surely beaten Quick on a redirect towards the goal, but the game continued. That wasn’t the only scare for the Kings though.
Phaneuf found himself on the wrong end of a break-in as Tomas Nosek was racing to the goal. As a result, Phaneuf hooked Nosek to negate any offense and was penalized as such— two minutes for hooking.
After a brief stoppage on the ensuing power play, Golden Knights head coach, Gerard Gallant, called a timeout with 43 seconds remaining on the man advantage. Both benches were beyond fatigued, but the Golden Knights just kept coming.
Los Angeles killed the remainder of Phaneuf’s penalty and resumed even strength play— even almost sneaking a soft shot past Fleury.
But it was the Golden Knights that were victorious after grinding down the Kings all night long.
The visiting team cracked the 30-shot plateau past the 93-minute mark of the game after chaos in their defensive zone. Quick had lost his stick while making a save and Trevor Lewis lost his stick when he blocked a shot, briefly limped in a circle and nearly cost the Kings the game right then and there.
Instead, Erik Haula (1) had just enough a couple of minutes later to put home a loose puck and lift the home team past Los Angeles, 2-1, in double overtime.
James Neal (1) and Shea Theodore (1) were credited with the assists on Haula’s game winning goal in what was the longest game for a team in its inaugural season— as well as the longest game in Kings’s franchise history, topping Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final versus the New York Rangers, which went into double overtime on June 13, 2014.
With the win, seven of the last 10 NHL expansion teams have now won their first playoff overtime game in their franchise history with Vegas also becoming the fifth franchise in NHL history to win each of their first 2-plus playoff games. The Golden Knights are just the second team to do so in their inaugural season (only their current playoff rival, Los Angeles Kings were able to go 2-0 to start their 1968 playoff run).
Vegas finished the night with 56 shots on goal to Los Angeles’s 30 shots. The Kings led in blocked shots (35-24), hits (80-56), giveaways (13-8) and faceoff win% (55-45). Los Angeles was 1/3 in power play opportunities on the night, while the Golden Knights were only 1/4 on the man advantage.
Fleury and the rest of his Vegas teammates shift their focus to winning at least one of the next two games on the road. Meanwhile, Quick and the Kings look to regroup in the comforts of home at Staples Center for Games 3 and 4.
Puck drop in Game 3 is set for Sunday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. National viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can watch the game on CBC or TVAS.
One thing has been for sure through two games in Vegas this postseason; the house always wins.
Get ready, because there’s a whole lot of hockey coming at you today.
With the Olympics underway, the hockey festivities get an early start today. Switzerland and the unified Korean women’s hockey teams will square off in Group B play at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time.
As for NHL action, the first five of nine games (Buffalo at Boston, Ottawa at Toronto [SN/TVAS], Nashville at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/SN360/TVAS], Los Angeles at Tampa Bay and New Jersey at Columbus) wait until the usual 7 p.m. starting time before getting underway. Next up is the three tilts (Philadelphia at Arizona, Chicago at Minnesota and Colorado at Carolina) scheduled for 8 p.m., followed two hours later by Edmonton at San Jose (CITY/SN/SN360), tonight’s NHL nightcap. All times Eastern.
Finally, we’ll also include Finland vs. the United States’ women’s hockey team’s Group A tilt in today’s listing. That puck drop is scheduled for Sunday at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time.
Here’s just a few of the games on today’s slate that stuck out to me:
- Switzerland vs. Korea: Let’s see if this unified Korean team can shock the sixth-ranked women’s side in the world.
- Buffalo at Boston: It’s rivalry night in New England!
- Ottawa at Toronto: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario rages on in the Queen City tonight.
- Nashville at Montréal: Another former Canadiens defenseman moved to Nashville this offseason. This year, it was Alexei Emelin.
- Los Angeles at Tampa Bay: C Vincent Lecavalier‘s sweater is being sent where it belongs tonight: hanging above the Amalie Arena ice.
- Chicago at Minnesota: Saturdays are apparently for rivalries, because every game between the Blackhawks and Wild is a good one.
- Edmonton at San Jose: This tilt may not be a rivalry, but it is a rematch of one of last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals.
- Finland vs. USA: Every game in Group A of the women’s Olympic tournament is a big deal. This one is no exception.
A sweater can only be retired once, so it looks like we’re headed to Florida!
Lecavalier’s outstanding story of an NHL career began on June 27, 1998. It was a beautiful 78 degree day in Buffalo (that’s 25.5 degrees to you Canadians) outside Marine Midland Arena, but that didn’t interest the 18-year-old L’Île-Bizard, Quebec native all that much, as he was the top-overall pick in that year’s NHL Entry Draft – the Bolts’ second such pick in six years.
With only two years of play under his belt with QMJHL side Rimouski, Lecavalier immediately joined a Tampa Bay team that had posted a horrendous 17-55-10 record the year before to finish dead last in the league standings, 19 points behind second-worst Florida.
The rookie didn’t exactly put up stellar numbers, finishing with 13-15-28 marks, but he did play all 82 games of his first regular season to help the Lightning improve, albeit moderately, to 19-54-9. Lecavalier finished 14th in Calder Trophy voting, well behind winner C Chris Drury, the 22-year-old center of the Colorado Avalanche.
Considering then-new Lightning owner Art Williams had dubbed Lecavalier “the Michael Jordan of hockey,” his rookie season must have been a disappointment. However, real champions are those that learn and grow from their struggles.
That’s exactly what Lecavalier did over the summer, and he reaped the benefits during his sophomore season. The still teen-aged youngster exploded during the 1999-’00 season, more than doubling his rookie production with 25-42-67 totals in two fewer games played- far and away the best marks on the team. Though the Bolts held firm in fourth place in the Southeast Division, Lecavalier was starting to show that he was worth the top-overall pick.
After stumbling a bit and continuing to grow into the NHL game over his next two seasons (not to mention assuming captaincy of the Lighting for the 2000-’01 season), Lecavalier’s next breakthrough came during the 2002-’03 campaign. In 80 games played, he posted a then career-best 33-45-78 score line, barely missing out on averaging a point-per-game for the first time since his dominant 44-71-115 effort during his final year in the QMJHL. Additionally, he posted his first non-negative season goal-differential, which is just as much a testament to his improved play as it is to the improvement of the squad around him.
This improved team effort earned Tampa Bay a 36-25-16-5 record, good enough for its first-ever division title and second-ever playoff berth. Lecavalier and the Lightning performed well in the postseason, advancing to the Eastern Semifinals before falling to the mighty Devils in five games.
That sparked a run of four-consecutive postseason appearances for the Bolts (ignoring, of course, the locked-out 2004-’05 season), which included what is probably the pinnacle of Lecavalier’s NHL career: hoisting the 2004 Stanley Cup after a seven-game war against the Calgary Flames.
After taking a back seat in Tampa’s five-game victory over the Isles in the Eastern Quarterfinals, Lecavalier absolutely dominated his hometown Canadiens in the semifinals (growing up a Red Wings fan, he probably brought some Original Six bad blood into the matchup). In only four games, he posted unbelievable 5-2-7 totals to have a hand in half of the Bolts’ goals.
Lecavalier continued his scoring ways in the Conference Finals against third-seeded Philadelphia, nearly managing a point per match with 4-2-6 totals in the seven-game series.
Though not to the extreme of his 0-0-0 performance against New York, Lecavalier struggled to find much traction in the Stanley Cup Finals against Calgary – the West’s sixth-seeded team – and its dominant defense. He posted only 0-3-3 totals in the seven-game series, but one of those assists proved to be the primary helper on LW Ruslan Fedotenko‘s Cup-clinching goal.
But Lord Stanley’s Cup is not the only piece of hardware associated with Lecavalier. The same year he was named to the Second All-Star Team (not the group that competes during the break in late January, but the arguably more important season-ending honor), he took home the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for his career-best 52-56-108 performance in 2006-’07, beating Ottawa’s LW Dany Heatley by two tallies.
In addition to being a stellar hockey player, Lecavalier was – and undoubtedly still is – an incredible human being. Only a year after winning one of the most prestigious awards for achievements in the rink (and finishing in fourth place for the Hart Memorial Trophy as well), Lecavalier was bestowed the 2008 King Clancy Memorial Trophy for pledging $3 million to build the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at St. Petersburg’s All Children’s Hospital (now Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital).
As for Lecavalier on the ice, things started to decline following his respective 108 and 92-point seasons in 2006-’07 and 2007-’08. Though he came close in 2012-’13 with his 10-22-32 totals in 39 games played, never again would Lecavalier reach the illustrious point-per-game mark that all forwards strive for.
As such, the Lightning were forced to buyout the remaining seven years of Lecavalier’s contract on June 27, 2013 – 15 years to the day after being drafted by the club.
However, that didn’t mark the end of Lecavalier’s career. He would go on to play three more seasons in the NHL, including 42 regular season games in the 2015-’16 campaign with tonight’s opponent: the Los Angeles Kings. After five postseason games with the Kings, in which he managed 1-1-2 totals before being eliminated by San Jose, Lecavalier retired from the league on June 21, 2016, six days before the 18th anniversary of an 18-year-old boy from L’Île-Bizard being drafted first overall.
It was a beautiful 89 degrees that day in Los Angeles, but that didn’t interest Lecavalier all that much.
Made known by his Richard Trophy, there’s nothing Lecavalier loved more than scoring. Though he won’t be lacing up the skates this evening, he would certainly fit in with his would-be teammates on the league-leading 37-14-3 Lightning, as they’ve posted a 6-2-0 record since January 22 with an imposing 3.75 goals per game, the third-best mark in the league in that time.
If the leaders of an offense during a run like this are those that average at least a point per game, Tampa has had three stars in its past eight tilts: F Yanni Gourde (6-4-10 points over this run, 20-20-40 overall), C Steven Stamkos (3-5-8 over this run, 20-42-62 overall) and sophomore LW Adam Erne (1-0-1 in his one NHL game of the season so far, Thursday’s 5-2 victory against the Canucks).
In all seriousness, the Lightning’s top line – which currently consists of Gourde, Stamkos and F Tyler Johnson – has been playing lights out over the past 19 days. Whether it’s been on the power play or at even-strength (Tampa’s 24.1 percent power play success rate on the season is [t]second-best in the league), the Bolts have been an imposing threat every time they have the puck on their sticks.
Of course, it would be wildly irresponsible to discuss Tampa Bay’s offense without bringing up RW Nikita Kucherov. The Russian has been unstoppable all season, as his 68 points on the year is the most in the league, followed by his (t)sixth-most 28 goals. Stamkos has also been the consistent threat everyone expects him to be, as his 62 points on the year is (t)seventh-most in the NHL and his 42 assists (t)eighth-most.
Of course, the Lighting aren’t just all offense. They dominate the defensive end too, allowing a ninth-fewest 2.63 goals against per game since January 22.
Considering Tampa’s defense has allowed an abysmal 36.25 shots against per game over its past eight games (third-worst since January 22), no one but 32-10-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves any credit for that success. Vasilevskiy has posted a dominant .938 save percentage and 2.29 GAA over his past six starts to improve his season marks to .929 and 2.27, and he’s all but certain to be in net this evening.
As for the visiting 30-19-5 Kings, it’s been an up-and-down season so far. However, Los Angeles seems to be experiencing one of its ups lately, as it’s posted a 5-1-0 record in its past six games to jump into second place in the Pacific Division.
The person behind these recent winning ways is none other than 9-1-3 G Darcy Kuemper. He’s started four of the past six games for an undefeated record, sporting an almost unbreakable .973 save percentage and .74 GAA to improve his season marks to .942 and 1.78. With 21-18-2 G Jonathan Quick dominating the crease to a 3-1 victory in Sunrise last night, it seems probable that Kuemper will be in net this evening
Of course, Kuemper has also had the luxury of the league’s (t)ninth-best defense since January 24 playing in front of him. Led by the efforts of LW Kyle Clifford (2.5 hits per game since January 24), F Alex Iafallo (four takeaways over this run) and D Alec Martinez (4.5 blocks per game in his past four appearances), the Kings have allowed an average of only 30.83 shots against to help Kuemper earn these victories.
For the icing on the cake, Los Angeles has also been able to turn Kuemper’s confidence in the crease into goals on the other end. With C Anze Kopitar (3-5-8 totals since January 24, 22-36-58 overall) and D Drew Doughty (1-5-6 totals in his past six games, 8-31-39 overall) leading the way, the Kings have scored an impressive 3.17 goals per game over their past six tilts – the 10th-best effort in that time.
Back on November 9, the Lightning made their annual trip to Tinseltown and found much success, beating the Kings 5-2. Kucherov took home First Star honors from that tilt with his one-goal, three-point effort.
Two teams come into this game playing with confidence, but only one can earn two points. Considering the Kings had to travel to Tampa last night, it’s hard to pick against the Bolts. However, considering how well Kuemper has been playing of late, the Lightning just might need more than 60 minutes to get enough pucks past him.
With three goals in the second period, the St. Louis Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bell MTS Centre.
Before the Jets even got on their own scoreboard, St. Louis had already earned found its game-winner. First Star of the Game RW Vladimir Tarasenko (Third Star F Alex Steen) scored the first goal of the game with a wrist shot 24:18 into the contest.
Once that opening tally was out of the way, the Blues were able to score seemingly at will. With 9:47 remaining in the second frame, F Patrik Berglund (D Robert Bortuzzo and F Jaden Schwartz) doubled St. Louis’ advantage, followed only 1:26 later by Steen’s (D Alex Pietrangelo) game-winning snap shot.
Though Pietrangelo technically goes down as providing the only helper on Steen’s tally, he should really receive the secondary assist while handing the primary honors over to G Connor Hellebuyck. Pietrangelo fired a low wrister from the right face-off circle that the netminder easily deflected with his pads, but that save ended up right on Steen’s stick. Having scored 11 goals on the season before this one, the forward knew exactly what to do with the opportunity, burying a snapper in Hellebuyck’s wide open net before he could figure out what was going on.
Winnipeg’s comeback attempt continued in the third period, as W Patrik Laine (Connor and RW Blake Wheeler) took advantage of F Vladimir Sobotka hooking him only 39 seconds before to score a power play slap shot with 8:21 remaining in regulation. With Winnipeg now only a goal away from tying the game, Tarasenko (C Paul Stastny and D Jay Bouwmeester) set the score at 4-2 with an insurance snapper 66 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Laine. Finally Schwartz tacked on another insurance tally with three seconds remaining on the clock, scoring a shorthanded wrister on an empty net.
G Jake Allen earned the victory after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).
With points in three-straight games, the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are trying to do all they can to get back into the season series. With the Notes’ victory in white sweaters, the roadies are now 24 points behind the series’ 67-40-15 hosts.
Gearing up for a full slate of 15 games tomorrow, the NHL scheduler applied the brakes today.
Only two games are on the schedule this evening, with the first – Toronto at Chicago (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) – dropping the puck at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Next up is Los Angeles at Calgary (SN360), which gets underway two hours later.
While it would certainly be fun to feature an Original Six rivalry for the first time in a week, the Pacific Division has an important contest taking place this evening. Off to the Saddledome with us!
You know that feeling when you’re driving down the road and you see your friend driving the other way?
That’s kind of what’s going on between these squads within the Pacific Division. For much of the season – as recently as January 4 – the 25-18-5 Kings were competing with Vegas for the division lead, but they’ve suffered a 1-7-0 stretch since then that has sent them to 10th-place in the Western Conference.
A team that drops from second in the division to outside the playoff picture in the span of less than 20 days surely has more than one issue. I’d argue they have two big ones: an anemic offense accented by a regression at the goaltending position.
There’s no other way to say it: Los Angeles’ offense has been terrible lately. Since January 4, the Kings have averaged only 2.13 goals per game – a mark that is better than only the efforts of division-rival Edmonton (two goals per game) and Columbus (1.5 goals per game) in that time.
As might be expected, more than a few Kings have seen a regression in their scoring since this skid began. However, the likes of C Anze Kopitar (19-31-50 totals) and D Jake Muzzin (4-23-27) are still maintaining their high level of play, as they both average a point-per-game since January 4.
Even still, their efforts are not enough to make up for the rest of the squad’s slump. In particular, Los Angeles is missing the usually solid play of W Dustin Brown (15-19-34 totals) and F Tyler Toffoli (18-12-30), two players among the top-five in point production for the Kings on the season that have managed only respective 0-3-3 and 1-0-1 totals in their last eight games played.
While pointing fingers at Head Coach John Stevens‘ offense is certainly a warranted charge, I do need to acknowledge that Los Angeles’ offense was never the class of the league. On the season, the Kings have scored an average of only 2.81 goals per game, the 13th-worst mark in the NHL.
But that bad-turned-worse regression only half the problem. 20-17-2 G Jonathan Quick has also been miserable in his last seven starts. After starting the season with Vezina-like numbers, he’s posted only an .876 save percentage and 3.65 GAA to drop his season marks to a .921 and 2.44.
Making his performance even more frustrating is that his defense is doing everything in its control to make his life easier. Led by Brown’s 3.1 hits per game, Kopitar’s six takeaways and D Alec Martinez‘ 3.3 blocks per game during this run, he’s faced an average of only 29.5 shots per game during this skid – the fifth-fewest in the league in that time.
Pair a flailing offense and a goaltender in a rut and you get a league-worst -12 goal differential since January 4. There’s a lot that needs to improve for this Kings team to get back into playoff position, much less beat the Flames tonight.
One thing that might see an immediate change this evening could take place in the crease. Quick was in net for 24:21 of yesterday’s 6-2 loss in Vancouver, but he was pulled after allowing his fifth goal on 19 shots faced (.737 save percentage). With 5-1-3 G Darcy Kuemper posting a .938 save percentage in his 35:39 of play, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the nod in this very important game today.
Meanwhile, 25-16-6 Calgary has taken advantage of the Kings’ struggles to surge into a top-three spot in the division after spending most of the season fading in and out of the second wildcard spot. They’ve been impressive since December 31, as that’s when the Flames started their current 7-0-2 run.
In a twist of cruel irony, the biggest reason for the Flames’ increased production rests on one man in particular: 20-13-5 G Mike Smith. Smith has been almost unbeatable since December 31, posting a .945 save percentage and 1.84 GAA to improve his season marks to .926 and 2.41 and lead his club to a 6-0-2 record while he’s been in net (4-1-1 G David Rittich earned the final victory on January 12 at Florida).
Smith’s performance has been of the utmost importance for the Flames, because his defense certainly doesn’t do him any favors having allowed a third-worst 35.11 shots against-per-game since December 31.
Of course, to continue the inverted allusion to the Kings, Calgary has also had the luxury of one of the better offenses in the league during this nine-game run. Scoring 3.22 goals per game since New Year’s Eve, the Flames have wielded the ninth-strongest attack in the NHL.
Many players are performing exceptionally well, but four stick out above the rest. You likely guessed LW Johnny Gaudreau first, and with good reason: his 40 assists on the season are (t)fifth-best in the league, and his 55 points (t)sixth-best. The reigning Lady Byng-winner is continuing his career year by posting solid 2-12-14 totals since New Year’s Eve, but he’s not the only one averaging at least a point per game during this run: LW Matthew Tkachuk (6-4-10), C Sean Monahan (4-6-10) and W Micheal Ferland (4-5-9) join him in that feat, making both of Calgary’s top two lines a very imposing force for even the best defenses.
Tonight is Game 3 in a four-game regular season series between the Flames and Kings, and it’s a matchup Los Angeles is not excited about revisiting. Calgary has won both previous meetings this year, posting a 4-3 overtime victory at Staples Center (Monahan provided the game-winner) on October 11 and defending home ice on January 4 with a 4-3 regulation win (Ferland took First Star honors with a 1-1-2 night).
Since all the Kings need is a win tonight to get back into playoff position, maybe that will be enough motivation for them to rediscover their groove on the offensive end. However, I just don’t see it happening considering the Flames’ stellar play of late. Calgary should come away with two more points tonight.
Though Bridgestone Arena boasts an impressive home-ice advantage for the Nashville Predators, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to emerge with a 4-3 overtime victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
If any Preds fans made the mistake of going to the restroom or buying concessions during the first period, there’s a chance they missed all four goals that were struck in the frame. W Chris Kunitz scored the opening goal of the contest with an unassisted wrist shot 6:24 into the period, but Nashville had the game all tied up only 1:04 later courtesy of a power play (F Cedric Paquette was in the box for hooking C Kyle Turris) slap shot from Second Star of the Game D Ryan Ellis (D Roman Josi and C Colton Sissons). The Predators then took their first lead of the night at the 9:11 mark thanks to W Viktor Arvidsson‘s (LW Pontus Aberg and D Matt Irwin) wrister, but the score was once again tied only 1:37 later on a F Vladislav Namestnikov (C Steven Stamkos and Kunitz) wrister.
In all, it took only 4:24 for all four tallies to be struck, yet the first period ended just as it began – with both teams tied.
Scoring substantially subsided in the remaining 40 minutes, as only two goals were struck – one in each period. The second period’s goal belonged to D P.K. Subban (D Mattias Ekholm and F Ryan Johansen), a power play clapper struck with only 50 seconds remaining before the second intermission.
The Bolts tempted fate by waiting until the waning minutes of regulation to find their game-tying goal, but Stamkos (D Slater Koekkoek and Kunitz) scored a clapper with 2:12 remaining on the clock to force three-on-three overtime.
Overtime is scheduled for five minutes, but First Star F Yanni Gourde (Namestnikov) didn’t want to wait that long. Only 105 seconds into extra time, he took advantage of Namestnikov’s deke-turned-pass across the crease to bury a wrister into Third Star G Juuse Saros‘ gaping cage.
G Louis Domingue earned the victory after saving 30-of-33 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Saros, who saved 27-of-31 (.871).
Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are rolling this week. The visitors’ four-game winning streak has pulled them within 18 points of the 59-36-14 hosts.
Though the number of games on the schedule is normal for this day of the week, this particular Monday is nothing close to normal.
In addition to it being the 100th day of the season, the NHL is joining in on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations by playing three matinees this afternoon. The first – Dallas at Boston (SN) – drops the puck at 1 p.m., and it is followed two hours later by Anaheim at Colorado and San Jose at Los Angeles (NHLN/SN) at 4 p.m. Finally, the lone contest of the night is the New York Islanders at Montréal (NBCSN/RDS/TSN2), which gets underway at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.
Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington and Winnipeg.
There’s only two contests that really stand out to me, but since the Kings and Sharks have a little bit of animosity between them, we have to take in that matchup.
Road trips can be tough, but 22-13-6 San Jose, which currently trails Dallas by a point for the second Western Conference wild card, managed to make the best of the situation to earn a 2-2-2 record over its past six games.
However, it’s surprising the Sharks were able to even post that record given their defense. Since December 31, the Sharks have allowed 24 goals against in six games played, and their four per-game average is (t)fourth-worst in the NHL in that time.
I’m leaning towards Jones. San Jose’s defense, led by D Justin Braun and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both with two blocks per game since New Year’s Eve), Burns (team-leading eight takeaways in the last six games) and D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits-per-game since December 31) has allowed only 30.83 shots against per game since New Year’s Eve, the 10th-lowest mark in the league in that time.
Unfortunately for San Jose, the little that has gotten to Jones has given him major issues. He’s posted only an .859 save percentage and 4.04 GAA in his past four starts (both bottom-10 marks in the NHL since December 31) to earn only one point in the standings. He’ll be looking to rebound tonight against a Kings offense that fires an average of only 30.7 shots on goal per game.
Speaking of the 24-14-5 Kings, who currently occupy third place in the Pacific Division, they are one of the few teams in the league currently jealous of the Sharks’ current run.
That’s right, 2-2-2 is way better than the three-game losing skid Los Angeles is currently suffering. The Kings are averaging four goals against since January 4, the (t)sixth-worst in the league in that time.
In a similar question to the one we had about the Sharks, does the blame fall on 19-14-2 G Jonathan Quick or his defense?
The comparisons between the Kings and Sharks continues, as Quick has to bear the load of this losing skid. Led by F Adrian Kempe (two takeaways since January 4), D Kurtis MacDermid (3.7 hits per game since January 4) and D Alec Martinez (3.3 blocks per game in his last three games played), Los Angeles has limited its opposition to only 27.67 shots per game, the second-fewest since January 4.
Even though he’s had the luxury of a lighter work load, Quick has been absolutely miserable over his last three game. He’s managed only an .866 save percentage and 3.75 GAA during this losing skid, and he squares off against an offense that averages 32.8 shots per game.
Barring a postseason matchup, today’s game is the finale of the four-game Battle of California series. Though the Kings won the first meeting 4-1 in The Tank on October 7, San Jose has emerged victorious from the previous two games. The Sharks beat the Kings 2-1 in Los Angeles on November 12, and then 2-0 on December 23.
With two teams in a bit of a rough patch, a good rivalry victory can do a lot to get them back on track. Personally, I’m leaning towards the Kings winning this afternoon’s game with their superior defense.
With four unanswered goals, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New York Rangers 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
At the start of the first period, it seemed like Pittsburgh was well off to a good start. Only 3:14 into play, Patric Hornqvist (Second Star of the Game Carl Hagelin and Kris Letang) buried a backhanded shot to give the Pens a 1-0 advantage. However, it was the Rangers that entered the first intermission with the advantage, as Michael Grabner scored an unassisted backhander with 4:43 remaining in the frame to level the score, and Brendan Smith (Vinni Lettieri and Paul Carey) registered his first goal of the season 3:49 later to give New York a one-goal advantage.
The Penguins’ offense apparently didn’t take too kindly to being outplayed by New York’s recently struggling corps, because they registered a whopping 34 shots to the Blueshirts’ 15 over the course of the remaining two periods.
But more shots doesn’t always lead to immediate success. Pittsburgh needed 13:15 of play in the second period before it leveled the game at two-all courtesy of a wrist shot from First Star Dominik Simon (Brian Dumoulin and Sidney Crosby), the first goal of his NHL career.
75 seconds after the goal horn stopped blaring for Simon’s marker, Third Star Phil Kessel (Conor Sheary) buried what proved to be the game-winner. The goal itself was nothing to write home about, as Kessel took advantage of Sheary’s quick pass from the corner to rip a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist before he could even blink. However, the goal marked the 700th point of Kessel’s career.
Just think if he got a hot dog for every point to his name…
Pittsburgh’s offense continued to dominate possession in the third period and eventually added on two extra tallies. Crosby (Kessel and Jamie Oleksiak) tacked on an insurance tally with 7:27 remaining in regulation, and Hagelin (Oleksiak) scored an empty netter with 5:28 later to set the 5-2 final score.
G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqivst, who saved 42-of-46 (.913).
The Penguins’ home victory snapped a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 55-33-12 hosts in the series now have a 20-point advantage on the visitors.
As if 13 games on Saturday wasn’t enough, the NHL is keeping the party going today with five more contests to close out the weekend.
The action starts at 5 p.m. when the New York Islanders visit Carolina, followed an hour later by Colorado at Detroit. Ottawa at the New York Rangers (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas and Florida at Anaheim – waiting 60 minutes before finishing the weekend’s activities. All times Eastern.
Two of today’s games have been scheduled on my calendar since the schedule was released this summer…
- Colorado at Detroit: Hockey fans from the 90s probably vividly remember the games between these teams, with the most infamous of course being “Fight Night at the Joe” in 1997.
- Ottawa at New York: Remember last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals? The Rangers sure do.
…but neither of them strike my fancy like tonight’s activity out in the desert. Brush up on your poker, because we’re headed to Sin City!
In what may be the unlikeliest of scenarios, today’s matchup features the top-two teams in the Pacific Division. You know, the same teams that either have missed the playoffs two out of the past three seasons or didn’t exist this time last year.
Probably the most unexpected is the success of the 11-6-1 Golden Knights in only their first two months of play. No matter what bizarre situations they’ve been thrust into – including not one, not two but three goaltenders landing on IR in the month of October – the Knights have responded with the fighting spirit of a team with decades of history and prestige.
Most notably, Vegas plays some good offense. Like, really good. So good, in fact, that it tops the Western Conference and ranks fourth-best in the NHL overall in scoring, managing 3.56 goals-per-game. For those wondering, that makes the Knights’ offense better than those of Winnipeg, Chicago, St. Louis and a heap of other clubs not named the Lightning, Maple Leafs or Islanders.
The man behind it all? Probably Head Coach Gerard Gallant, but since he wears a suit instead of skates, we’ll bestow the honor upon second-liner W David Perron. The former Blue has scored a team-high 17 points to average .94 per game, due in large part to finding is way onto the scorecard in each of his last six games.
However, with 6-11-17 totals, Perron is largely a facilitator for the rest of his line. Instead, it’s been linemate W James Neal that has taken credit for a team-high 10 goals. Though not as hot as Perron, Neal is certainly feeling his offensive game of late, as he’s scored a goal in two of his last three games and is riding a three-game point streak.
Attempting to slow down this stellar offense tonight (well, this afternoon if you’re in Vegas considering it’s a 5 p.m. puck drop local time) are the division-leading 12-6-2 Kings. Fortunately for Los Angeles, it’s a team that hangs its hat on squelching opposing attacks, as it allows only a second-best 2.3 goals against-per game.
I’m pretty sure I say it every time we focus on the Kings, but the biggest reason for their success this season is the incredible play of 9-6-1 G Jonathan Quick. I’d change the story to keep things fresh, but it’s hard to take away from a netminder that has managed a .93 season save percentage and 2.31 GAA to rank in the top-six of his position.
Unfortunately for Quick, looking at his season stats hides the fact that he’s currently riding a four-game losing skid that goes back to November 9. Over the course of these games, Quick has allowed a dozen goals – all at home, mind you – on a .91 save percentage.
Head Coach John Stevens definitely had this game on his mind this week, because he purposefully rested Quick in yesterday’s game against Florida – another strong offense, though nowhere near as good as Vegas’ – in favor of 3-0-1 G Darcy Kuemper. The first half of that decision paid off when the Kings beat the Panthers 4-0 at the Staples Center yesterday, so it will be interesting to see how Los Angeles travels.
The reason for Kuemper’s strong record is that the Kings’ defense plays differently with him in net compared to their usual starter. Kuemper has faced only 111 shots this season, which is 27.75 per start. Compare that to Quick’s 33.25 shots against-per-start and we see part of the problem. To help Quick get out of his rut, I think Stevens’ defense will play back this evening to alleviate some of the pressure off Quick and allow him to rebuild the confidence he may have lost over the past 10 days.
If that is the case, expect to hear W Dustin Brown and D Alec Martinez‘ names said a lot tonight. Though he’s no blueliner, Brown has managed three hits-per-game all season to lead the team and knows how to slow down opposing scorers. In addition, even if those goalscorers get a shot off, Martinez averages a league-high 3.4 blocks-per-game, so very little gets past him. If their efforts can motivate their club to take their defensive zone a little more seriously than they usually do with Quick in net, this Kings team should be fine tonight.
G Malcolm Subban was just activated Thursday from injured reserve, so it is possible he’s in net tonight. If he is, there’s a possibility he’ll show a little bit of rust – and I’d expect the Kings’ offense to pounce. If G Maxime Lagace holds his starting job for one more day, Los Angeles will need all of its (t)11th-ranked offense to get the job done.
Thanks to an offensive explosion in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 at Bell MTS Place in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Usually it’s a bad thing to score all your goals in one period, but the Jets seemed to do just fine by burying five tallies in the span of 12:27, four of which in only 3:50. Making the onslaught even more fun, all five Winnipeg markers were struck by a different goalscorer.
LW Kyle Connor (RW Blake Wheeler and C Mark Scheifele) got the party started at the 5:51 mark of the second period with the first goal of the game. Though F Brian Gibbons (F Blake Coleman and D Will Butcher) was able to level the score for the Devils 61 seconds later, it did little to dampen the Jets’ energy.
RW Patrik Laine (W Nikolaj Ehlers and F Bryan Little) reclaimed a one-goal lead for Winnipeg at the 8:06 mark, followed only 35 seconds later by D Jacob Trouba (Connor and Scheifele) burying his first goal of the season for what proved to be the game-winner.
Exactly a minute after the celebration for Trouba’s goal had ended, the Phone Booth erupted again for F Matt Hendricks‘ (F Mathieu Perreault and RW Joel Armia) wrist shot to set the score at 4-1. Perreault (Hendricks and Armia) completed the Jets’ score fest with a deflection 1:42 before the second intermission.
Butcher (C Nico Hischier and F Taylor Hall) registered the first goal of his career in the third period, but even the 12:46 remaining in regulation was not enough for Jersey to pose any more of a threat.
G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Cory Schneider, who saved 17-of-22 (.773). He was lifted in favor of G Keith Kinkaid for the third period, who saved all 12 shots he faced.
Winnipeg’s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That improves the hosts’ record to 25-17-5, which his eight points better than the roadies.