For the Kings, the road has been a welcome respite this season, so their three-game trip set to begin Sunday in Minnesota may offer them firm footing after backsliding among the West’s top teams.
The Kings have posted 20 wins away from home, with only division leaders Colorado and Calgary having won more among the Western teams on the road.
But of the six non-wildcard playoff teams in the current West standings, four have picked up at least 15 of their last 20 possible points, with Calgary weathering a three-game skid and still collecting 13 of its last 20. Minnesota, which ranked second in the Central Division, has gone 11-2-3 in its past 16 games despite dropping its last two.
The Kings have treaded water, earning just half their possible points across a 4-4-2 stretch that saw them lose two pivotal matches earlier this week.
“We’ve got to move on, it’s ‘forget about this one and go onto the next one.’ It’s that time of the year right now,” Kings winger Viktor Arvidsson said.
The Kings are still undermanned, missing Minnesota natives defenseman Mikey Anderson and center Blake Lizotte, as well as top defenseman Drew Doughty, former captain Dustin Brown, winger Andreas Athanasiou, defenseman Sean Walker and, potentially, defenseman Alex Edler.
They also lost both of their four-point games last week in regulation time, first with Calgary and then Edmonton, by 3-2 margins. All three of their games against Calgary ended in that same score this season, while all four meetings with Edmonton saw the teams separated by a goal with 5:22 or less to play.
“One goal against. We’re playing hard, we made mistakes and they capitalized on it,” McLellan said following the loss to Edmonton on Thursday, after which Edmonton winger Evander Kane was fined $5,000 for kneeing defenseman Sean Durzi. “It didn’t happen in Winnipeg, didn’t happen in Calgary [the week prior]. So, it’s that close, it’s that fine of a line.”
The Kings split their first two meetings with Minnesota, with both games decided by one goal. That was the same position they were in heading into a rubber match with Calgary, which they lost by a goal.
“It was a fine line between the two teams, we were just on the short end,” McLellan had said after the loss to Calgary, further establishing a narrative that carried forward.
McLellan also stressed that he felt all six goals allowed earlier this week were preventable, identifying four instances that he felt were particularly feasible fixes. However, he and Arvidsson stressed the importance of focus and game management against elite players.
Calgary winger Johnny Gaudreau potted two goals and assisted on Calgary’s third Monday, then Edmonton center Connor McDavid opened the scoring and set up the game-winner Thursday.
A game-breaking talent on the opposing side will be a concern once more for the Kings on Sunday, as they will contend with winger Kirill “the Thrill” Kaprizov in Minnesota.
Kaprizov established himself as a nemesis of the Kings instantaneously last season. In his first NHL game, he piled up two assists before scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against the Kings. He went on to notch nine points in eight meetings with the Kings last year.
This season, he recorded an assist in a 3-2 Minnesota victory in October and five shots on goal in a 2-1 Wild loss in December.
Of late, Kaprizov has accumulated 26 points over his past 21 games. His 18 goals over that stretch are second in the NHL to only Toronto center Auston Matthews (20).
On the season, Kaprizov’s 88 points pace the Wild and linemate Mats Zuccarello has enjoyed a career-best campaign at age 34. The Norwegian posted 35 points in 42 games last season when Kaprizov was the NHL’s top rookie. That was Zuccarello’s highest per-game mark yet, but he has surpassed it this season with 71 points in 62 games to date.
Goalie Cam Talbot was selected to the All-Star game, but that offered little comfort to Minnesota as he allowed four or more goals in 15 of 36 starts since Nov. 1. The Wild acquired insurance in net at the deadline in the form of future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury. He has won three of four starts since arriving in Minnesota last month.
Kings at Minnesota
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
TV/Radio: Bally Sports West/iHeartRadio