Phoenix Coyotes v Los Angeles Kings

2011-2012 season preview: Los Angeles Kings

2010-2011 record: 46-30-6, 98 points; 4th in Pacific, 7th in West.

Playoffs: Lost to San Jose 4-2 in Western quarterfinals

If you believe fans and the actions of management, the time is now for the Kings. After building expectations last season, the team acquired former Flyers captain Mike Richards (for a package that included prized prospect Brayden Schenn) in an offseason trade and signed Simon Gagne as an unrestricted free agent. After signing 21-year-old restricted free agent Drew Doughty to an 8-year deal worth $56 million in the final days of training camp, management signaled that the Kings are clearly in ‘win now’ mode.

Offense

Over the past few seasons, the main question marks around the Kings forwards have been their left wings and second-line center position. Despite expectations at the beginning of last season, the voids at both positions made some insiders wonder if they’d have what it took to make the next step. They didn’t. But management has done their best to address the void in full: Richards steps in as the undisputed No. 2 center behind Anze Kopitar, while Gagne and deadline acquisition Dustin Penner  fill the top two spots on the left wing. Combined with the likes of Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, the Kings have a legitimate top-six that can compete with just about any team in the league.

Defense

There were clouds of uncertainty as the Kings prepared to head to Europe for their first two games without Doughty. Just about all of the clouds disappeared when Doughty and the Kings reached a last-minute agreement. He’ll join defensive stalwarts Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi on the blue line as the Kings are built on strong defensive play. For the Kings to take the next step though, they’ll need Jack Johnson to step up and play like the player everyone thought he’d be when he was drafted No. 3 overall by Carolina in 2005. He was undoubtedly the weak link on a strong blue line last season — if he can take the next step mentally, the Kings could have the strongest defense in the Western Conference.

Goalies

There aren’t many young goalie tandems like Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Quick was given the reins to start last season and never did anything to allow the coaching staff to pull him from the crease. His 2.24 goals against average was among the league’s best and his .918 save percentage was a career best. He’ll need to continue the stellar play because Bernier is breathing down his neck. After a slow start to begin last season, Bernier pulled his game together and was a rock down the stretch. For people that say that healthy competition is a good thing — the Kings are in a good spot.

Coaching

Terry Murray has helped the young players within the organization mature from a collection of NHL hopefuls to a team coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in a decade. The next step for Murray will be to teach the players within the locker room to be able to play with expectations. Murray has proved that he knows how to lead teams to the playoffs at every spot throughout his long coaching career — now he’ll need to help them grow into a dangerous playoff team.

Breakout candidate

Penner was an absolute disaster after he was acquired by the Kings in a deadline deal from Edmonton. Most people forget that he scored in six of his first seven games with the Kings because he went the final 12 games of the season without a point. Between learning a new system, losing his playmaking center, and horrific conditioning, Penner fell apart and eventually found himself in a fourth-line role in the playoffs. This season, he’s in the best shape of his career (as he enters a contract year), he’ll have Kopitar feeding him the puck and he has a better idea of what the organization expects of him on the defensive side of the puck. Look for a career year for the reenergized and motivated Penner.

Best-case scenario

For the first time in their 44-year history, the Kings don’t have any glaring weaknesses. If newcomers like Richards and Gagne can smoothly make the transition to the Western Conference, Kopitar can continue his assent to elite center status, and Doughty can rediscover his Norris Trophy finalist form of 2009-10, the Kings will have all the pieces to make a deep run in the playoffs. If everything falls into place, this team could have fans in Los Angeles having flashbacks to the memorable run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.

Reality

The reality is that the Kings have never had these kinds of expectations. They’ve had times when they were expected to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but this season the Kings are looked at as possible Stanley Cup contenders. It’s a different animal for a team to play with expectations. Assuming all of the new players can seamlessly fit into their new roles and the team can avoid the ill-timed injures of a season ago, the Kings have the type of team that can win the Pacific and finish second in the conference.

The Predators are on a roll

DENVER, CO - MARCH 05:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on March 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 5-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Filip Forsberg scored twice, including the tiebreaking goal in the third, and the Nashville Predators rallied from two goals down to beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 Sunday night.

Forsberg took a pretty feed from Ryan Ellis and one-timed it from the left circle past Darcy Kuemper with 6:36 left to put Nashville up 3-2.

It was Kuemper’s first-career loss in five starts against the Predators, who have won six of seven and wrapped up a five-game road trip with four wins.

Ryan Johansen added an empty netter for Nashville, and James Neal also had a goal. Pekka Rinne stopped 21 shots for Nashville.

Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville scored for the Wild. Kuemper, starting in place of regular starter Devan Dubnyk, had 28 saves as Minnesota fell into a first-place tie with Chicago atop the Western Conference.

Forsberg tied it at 2:20 of the third on a backhander past Kuemper’s stick side.

Minnesota started fast, pulling ahead 2-0 just 7:31 into the game. Granlund scored his 11th just over two minutes in. Pominville added his seventh five minutes later.

But seven games in 10 days appeared to catch up with the Wild in the second as Nashville outshot Minnesota 10-4 in the period and controlled the puck effectively.

Neal pulled the Predators to 2-1 with his team-leading 16th goal of the season 2:25 into the period.

Late letdown costs Canucks versus their old rivals from Chicago

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrtaes a third period goal against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on January 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 4-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Sure, the Vancouver Canucks clawed back against an old rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Sunday.

But, thanks to a late letdown in regulation, they missed out on a great opportunity to move into a playoff position.

Down a pair of goals in the third period, the Canucks managed to come back in hostile territory. It started with a Troy Stecher power play goal. Bo Horvat, in the lineup two days after getting hit in the back of the head with a slap shot, tied it up for Vancouver just 46 seconds later.

But the chance for at least a single point slipped at the worst possible time, as Jonathan Toews scored with 1:18 left in regulation and then set up an empty net goal from Marian Hossa just a few seconds later to secure the 4-2 win.

The Canucks remain stuck at five wins — just five wins — on the road. They have the 29th-ranked road record in the entire NHL. Only the Arizona Coyotes have been worse away from home ice. So, that’s a problem that needs to be fixed down the stretch.

Vancouver had a chance to move into a wild card spot. Instead, they let the Blackhawks regain momentum as the period went on, and as a result, they remain on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture for right now.

Corey Crawford earned his 200th career win, making 26 saves. That’s a milestone night for him. For Toews, that’s his most productive night of the season, as he factored into all four Chicago goals, which, of course, included the winner.

This has been a difficult year for Toews. He’s been injured. His point production has been down.

Video: Giroux bumps scoring slump to give Flyers the OT win

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The Philadelphia Flyers needed a win.

So overtime against the New York Islanders seemed like a perfect time for captain Claude Giroux to bust his scoring slump.

Without a goal in his last 12 games, or since Dec. 21 before the holiday break, Giroux finished the Flyers comeback with an overtime goal to give Philly a 3-2 victory on Sunday. Jakub Voracek did great work along the boards to force a turnover from John Tavares, and Shayne Gostisbehere followed up his chance with a quick pass to a wide-open Giroux at the top of the crease.

That comeback win — Philly trailed by two goals early in the second period — bumps the Flyers back into a wild card spot.

Steve Mason had a big game in net for Philly, with 36 saves, while the Flyers fired 47 shots on goal toward Thomas Greiss, although it’s a difficult task trying to re-set and stop Giroux — an accomplished scorer in the NHL — on the doorstep.

Goals, goals and more goals! Blue Jackets outlast Senators for overtime win

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 19:  Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stops a shot from Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets as Mike Hoffman #68 of the Ottawa Senators skates back on defense during the third period on January 19, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Ottawa defeated Columbus 2-0. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Plenty of goals. A little three-on-three overtime. Seemed like an enjoyable afternoon of hockey between the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Well, maybe the goalies, Mike Condon and Joonas Korpisalo, didn’t enjoy it as much.

The Blue Jackets prevailed for a 7-6 overtime win, with Cam Atkinson scoring just 1:09 into the extra period. That’s his 23rd goal of the season. Only two players — Jeff Carter (24) and Sidney Crosby (28) — have scored more goals than Atkinson this season.

With the win, and the Capitals sitting idle today, the Blue Jackets move back into a tie with Washington at 68 points in the fight for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

There were some anxious moments for Columbus.

Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski was hurt blocking a shot in the third period. He briefly left the game, unable to put any pressure on his right leg as he was helped off.

The good news: He only missed a few minutes, returning late in regulation and for the overtime as well, which is important for the Blue Jackets.

Despite his rookie status, and being a 19-year-old blue liner, Werenski is having an impressive season with six goals and 26 points in 45 games before Sunday.

“The thing that has impressed me the most about him is he’s a bit unflappable,” coach John Tortorella said earlier this season.

“He’s made a couple of huge mistakes in a game and he comes to the bench, shakes it off and then goes out and makes a great play. For a 19-year-old playing that position and the amount of time he’s getting in key situations with this organization, it’s pretty impressive.”