Minnesota Wild v Los Angeles Kings

Kopitar scores three; preseason hat tricks count, right?

People will argue the importance of a preseason game. Some say it’s important to win, some think it’s important for prospect development, and others will say that it’s all about developing chemistry. No matter which side of the debate you find yourself arguing: it’s better to win 6-0 than it is to lose by the same score.

In his first game against the Avalanche since he broke his ankle last March, Anze Kopitar netted a preseason hat trick while leading the Kings’ six goal explosion. He scored a pair of goals against new Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov in the second period before capping his night (and the Kings scoring) halfway through the third period. The victory lifted the Kings preseason record to 2-1-2, while the loss dropped the Avs to 1-3-0 this preseason.

By all measures, the game was an abject disaster for the Avalanche. They couldn’t get a puck past Jonathan Quick in 27 shots and Varlamov looked shaky in giving up the six spot—and still looking for his first win in an Avs jersey. For a team that looks like it could struggle this season, Varlamov will be asked to steal his fair share of games if the Avalanche want to be competitive this season. Hopefully for fans in Colorado, he’s getting these performances out of his system before the regular season starts.

Likewise, it’ll be imperative for Kopitar to thrive if the Kings want to succeed this season. The Slovenian playmaker was asked if he was thinking about last year’s injury when he took the ice against the same team:

“No. I was probably thinking about it a little more in the last game at Staples (Center), because it happened there. That was the only one. No, definitely not. It was a non-factor. I’m past that, obviously. I’ve got to look forward. What happened, happened, and I’m all healed up now and that’s the most important thing.’’

Last season, Kopitar scored 25 goals and 73 points in 75 regular season games. He’ll be asked to produce at the same point-per-game pace if the Kings want to take the next step from playoff contender to Stanley Cup contender. Wednesday night showed that he’s having no issues with his hands as he continues to recover from last year’s gruesome injury.

The Avalanche will get a chance to redeem themselves in a rematch on Saturday night in Las Vegas. They might want to put a body on that Kopitar guy.

Stars put Spezza on injured reserve, recall Faksa from AHL Texas

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Sitting three points out of top spot in the Central Division and on the eve of an important divisional clash on home ice with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Dallas Stars have placed center Jason Spezza on injured reserve retroactive to Thursday, the club announced on Friday.

Spezza, 32, was injured during Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Stars can move back to within a point of Chicago for the division lead with a regulation win on Saturday.

In 52 games this season, Spezza has 18 goals and 40 points, which ties him with Patrick Sharp for fourth on the team in total points.

With Spezza out, the Stars recalled 22-year-old forward Radek Faksa from the Texas Stars in the AHL.

Faksa has 15 goals and 26 points in 28 games this season with Texas. In 18 games with the NHL Stars, he has one goal and three points.

Hitch’s recipe for more goals is a pretty simple one

Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
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Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.

Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.

“To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.

“When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”

According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.

The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).

Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.

The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.

St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.

Goalie nods: Lindback ‘really excited’ for first start in almost three weeks

Anders Lindback
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Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.

The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.

Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.

Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.

Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.

Elsewhere…

— No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.

— Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.

A ‘pretty solid two-way player,’ Sundqvist to make NHL debut for Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins' Oskar Sundqvist (49) collides with Minnesota Wild's Jason Zucker (16) in the first period of a NHL preseason hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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The latest Penguins injuries, these ones to Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr, have led to an opportunity for Oskar Sundqvist.

Sundqvist will make his NHL debut for the Penguins tonight in Tampa. The 21-year-old center has five goals and 11 assists in 39 AHL games this season.

“Sunny’s a pretty solid two-way player,” coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Tribune-Review.

“I don’t think he’s going to dazzle you with flashy plays, but I think he’s a guy who plays the game the right way. He’s hard to play against because of his size. He’s got a long reach, and he’s got a good stick.”

Sundqvist was selected 81st overall by the Pens in 2012. He’ll become the fourth player out of that Pittsburgh draft class to make his NHL debut, after Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, and Matt Murray.

Veteran Matt Cullen will replace Malkin on the second line, skating with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.

Related: Nick Bonino out ‘at least a month’ with hand injury