Kings cap off successful road trip with victory over rival Ducks

Things were not going well for the Los Angeles Kings a month ago. Coming off a 2-6 season-long homestand, they were staring a franchise-long 10 game road trip in the face. The road trip couldn’t have come at a worse time as they struggled at the beginning of the calendar year and were engaged in the tight Western Conference playoff race. Expectations were huge at the beginning of the season, yet this was a team trapped in 12th place in the race for the playoffs.

But just before the road trip, the team started showing signs that they were going to bounce back. A three-game winning streak, including wins against Boston and San Jose, gave fans a sense that the team would be able to compete. But it didn’t change the fact that the Kings were heading out on the road for almost a full month and had a poor road record.

Fast forward to tonight and things are looking much better for the Kings. With their win against the Ducks in Anaheim, LA wrapped up their North American trek with a 6-1-3 record. Taking it a bit further, the Kings have earned points in 12 of their last 13 games. In a tight race where every point counts, this stretch couldn’t have come at a better time for the Kings.

Just about every single game was a closely contested battle on the road trip. Three of the losses came in extra time (one loss in OT, two in shootouts), and two of their wins were in the shootout. Take away the five games that went to extra time, and the Kings had two additional 1-goal wins. Razor thin margins any way you cut it. The only game where the Kings were dominated was in Long Island last weekend as they were shutout 3-0. Who would have thought the only loss in regulation would have been to the Islanders?

Some of the pessimists will tell you the Kings are a flawed team that needs to score more. Over the road trip, they only averaged 2.1 goals per game. There’s no question that rate won’t translate to a successful record over time. But for a team built on defense, the more important number would be the 1.8 goals they’re allowing per game. Yes, they need to get a sniper for their top 6; but any time a team can hold their opponents to under 2 goals per game for an extended period of time, they’re going to continue to win.

Earning 15 out of a possible 20 points is easily the most important stat for the Kings after the road trip. Teams always want to dominate, but they’ve been winning the tight checking, low scoring games that we can expect in the playoffs. From that point of view, the road trip showed they could be a team to be reckoned with in April and May.

Unfortunately, there’s no rest for the weary in Southern California as the Kings face the Minnesota Wild on Thursday in another huge game with playoff implications. The teams are tied with 70 points and are currently holding the 5th and 6th places in the West. You’d think they’d deserve a little rest after such a long trip—but the rest will have to wait.

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    Look at what Rangers are up against right now

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    You have to really squint to find bright sides to look on if you’re the New York Rangers.

    The Rangers are currently on a five-game losing streak and have one shabby win to show for their first eight games of 2017-18, and they’ll shortly face a challenge in the Nashville Predators, who are riding a five-game point streak (4-0-1 after losing their first two games).

    With six of those eight games coming at home, the Rangers are really squandering opportunities in the malicious Metro. About the only positive things you can say boil down to: a) scrapping two “loser points” out of the past two games and b) the team at least saying the right things, as Rick Nash notes according to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.

    “The bad teams I’ve been on, guys get away from the game plan, they don’t give the effort and there’s finger-pointing, whether in the room between guys; from the coach; or in the media. That’s what happens when things get away from you as a team.

    “None of that is happening here,” Nash said. “We’re together and we’re focusing on taking this one step at a time.”

    They might be wise not to look at the divisional standings. Just consider some of the teams they’re up against:

    Devils (12 points in 8 games): New Jersey currently has a perfect road record and a fleet of young legs, something the transitional Rangers must envy. Even if they’re likely to slip (being blanked by the Sharks could be an early sign of regression), the Devils figure to be a tougher out this season.

    Penguins (11 points in 8 games): Not much needs to be said, though it’s worth noting that they’ve won three in a row.

    Blue Jackets (10 points in 7 games): All signs point to former Rangers coach John Tortorella’s group being very much the threat that once surprised us.

    Capitals (9 points in 8 games): Finding ways to win, and scrappy in particular on the road so far (3-1-1 away record).

    Flyers (8 points in 7 games): Might be better than their record indicates, at least judging by their +9 goal differential. Philly has the potential to at least be a pesky “bubble” team.

    Hurricanes (7 points in 5 games): Light early schedule might keep them under the radar, for now.

    Islanders (7 points in 7 games): Mixed results might not help the Islanders retain John Tavares, but a competent Isles team would only make it tougher for the Rangers.

    Yeesh, kind of discouraging, right?

    The Rangers currently sit at four points in eight games played, and like this post argues, they really need to wake up soon. They’ve already played six home vs. two road contests, and they face a similar saturation of MSG going forward.

    Counting today’s game hosting the rising Predators, the Rangers play the next three in a row at home. After that, they play three of four on the road, but then enjoy a three-game homestand.

    So, by Nov. 11, they’ll have played 13 games at home and just five on the road.

    One gets the sense that the seat is getting hotter for Alain Vigneault by the day. Fair or not, it might feel like it’s boiling if the Rangers are still a wreck in mid-November.

    (If he still has a seat at the table, at all.)

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Devils fans help singer who forgot words to national anthem (Video)

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    The biggest save of the night at Prudential Center on Friday didn’t come from either goaltender, but rather New Jersey Devils fans in attendance for their game against the San Jose Sharks.

    Lauralie Mufute began singing the national anthem but midway through forgot the words. That’s when the crowd of 14,381 picked up where the 14-year-old left off and finished the song.

    A great job by the crowd in what certainly was a terrifying moment for the young performer.

    These flaps happen, as we’ve seen many times before in different situations. It’s always good to know the crowd can act as backup singers in times of need.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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    Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

    Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

    The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

    Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

    Highlight of the night:

    What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

    Factoid of the night:

    It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

    Scores:

    Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

    San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

    Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

    Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

    Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

    Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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    Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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    Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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    It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

    A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

    Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

    That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

    Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

    Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

    Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

    As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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    Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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