NHL on NBCSN: Kings eager to start fresh vs. Avs

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Colorado Avalanche host the Los Angeles Kings at the Pepsi Center at 10:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Few teams needed the Olympic break more than the Kings. They’ve been in a free fall for a while now, posting a 6-14-2 record since winning their last game against the Avalanche on Dec. 21.

The Kings’ offense has fizzled out as they’ve scored two or fewer goals in nine of their last 11 contests. At this point they rank 29th in goals per game, ahead of only the last place Buffalo Sabres.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday night’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Despite all that, they’re still third in the Pacific Division and have a four-point cushion in the battle for a playoff spot. So if they use the break as an opportunity to start fresh, there’s still a good chance that they’ll reach the postseason and, as we’ve seen with them in the past, anything’s possible after that.

Colorado certainly won’t make that an easy task for them though. Dating back to the shortened campaign, the last three games these squads played against each other weren’t decided in 60 minutes.

One difference this time around is that the Kings won’t face Semyon Varlamov. The Avalanche goaltender, fresh off his Olympic stint with Russia, will be benched in favor of Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Los Angeles is in a similar position as its options are starting netminder Jonathan Quick just days after losing the bronze medal game in Sochi with the United States, or go with backup Martin Jones. Fortunately for both of these squads, these understudies are more than capable of stealing the show.

Of course, the Avalanche and Kings sent more than their top goaltenders to the Olympics. One guy in particular worth keeping an eye on after his Sochi stint is Kings forward Dustin Brown. His playing time fell quickly in the United States’ last two contests and head coach Dan Bylsma suggested it was because he was going with players he thought could score.

Brown has seen his role with the Kings diminish this season as well and it will be interesting to see if the benching combined with America’s fourth place finish light a fire under him and perhaps lead to a run similar to the one he had towards the end of the 2011-12 campaign after TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that he was being shopped.

It might be a stretch for the Kings to hope for that, but they need someone to start scoring.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.

Leafs pass Bruins for third in Atlantic after gutsy win against Columbus

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It wasn’t pretty – especially if you’re disgusted by that Roman Polak hit – but the Toronto Maple Leafs keep generating big wins as a playoff return looks increasingly likely.

Toronto managed a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, passing the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division:

Maple Leafs: 83 points in 72 games
Bruins: 82 points in 73 games

This leaves the currently in-action New York Islanders four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card in the East.

The Maple Leafs aren’t just grabbing key points; they’re doing so against some strong opponents who’ve had plenty on the line, too. They beat a Metro contender in Columbus tonight, the Bruins on Monday, grabbed an OT point against Chicago on Saturday and handled the desperate Lightning last Thursday.

This game was all about William Nylander‘s brilliant start:

And also Toronto surviving a long penalty kill after that Polak hit:

Nazem Kadri‘s 30th goal really put the game out of reach, helping Toronto nab a significant victory.

The Blue Jackets can wallow in this defeat and Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s injury, either, as they turn around to face the Washington Capitals in a big one tomorrow.