Jeff Zatkoff

Arizona Coyotes left wing Brendan Perlini, o Britain, center, scores on Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj, right, of Slovakia, as defenseman Drew Doughty tries to defend during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Sutter pins loss to Coyotes on Budaj

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Peter Budaj has been a great story for the Los Angeles Kings. The 34-year-old goalie wasn’t even supposed to be in the NHL this season, until an injury to Jonathan Quick forced him into action. Budaj has 26 victories, tied for seventh most in the league with Henrik Lundqvist.

All that being said, Budaj has struggled in his last four outings, surrendering 16 goals in all. Last night, his coach called a spade a spade after a 5-3 loss to Arizona in which the Kings outshot the Coyotes 44-22.

“I don’t think our goaltending was very good tonight,” said Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “Big saves and bad goals are the difference in most hockey games now.”

Sutter added, “I’m sure [Budaj] would like to have three of the four goals back.”

The fifth Coyotes goal was scored into an empty net, sealing the loss for the Kings, who remained one point back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot.

Quick, meanwhile, is not expected to return until early March, so it’ll be up to Budaj to carry the mail until then.

L.A.’s other goalie, Jeff Zatkoff, is 2-7-1 with an .879 save percentage and hasn’t made a start in almost a month.

The Kings’ next game is Saturday at home to Florida.

Capitals chase Budaj, end Kings’ winning streak in rout

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Entering play on Sunday Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj had allowed just two goals in his previous four starts, a stretch that included three shutouts and a 140-plus minute shutout streak entering their game in Washington.

On Sunday, he didn’t even make it to the third period.

He was replaced by backup Jeff Zatkoff after giving up four goals only 13 shots in what would go on to be a 5-0 Kings loss to the Capitals.

Along with ending Budaj’s shutout streak (which ended up reaching 147 total minutes) the loss also snapped the Kings’ winning streak at five games.

It ended up being a strange day for the Kings because while they did a good job limiting the Capitals to only 19 shots on goal, they had several glaring defensive breakdowns that resulted in Capitals goals that left both Kings goaltenders with little chance. That was certainly the case on Lars Eller‘s goal to open the scoring early in the first period and again later in the game when former Kings forward Justin Williams was left wide open in front of Zatkoff.

The Capitals also received goals from Marcus Johansson, Brett Connolly and a T.J. Oshie goalie that destroyed Budaj’s water bottle.

Alex Ovechkin, who was honored before the game for recording his 1,000th career point earlier this season (ceremony featured in the video here), played 18 minutes, recorded an assist and four shots on goal.

With Braden Holtby getting the day off the Capitals turned to backup goalie Philipp Grubauer who stopped all 38 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.

The 38 saves are a season high for him.

The win is the Capitals’ ninth in a row on home ice and extends their lead in the Metropolitan Division to seven points over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. It also gives them a five-point lead over the Minnesota Wild for the best record in the NHL as they are once again on track to win the Presidents’ Trophy.

Goalie nods: Bolts start struggling Vasilevskiy ahead of struggling Bishop

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06:  Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning switches with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 during a break in play in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Since returning from injury, Ben Bishop has allowed 10 goals on 96 shots — an .896 save percentage — and was hooked on Saturday in a 5-3 loss to the lowly Coyotes.

So it’s not a huge surprise that Tampa Bay will start Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight, when it takes on the ‘Hawks in Chicago.

But it’s not like Vasilevskiy’s rolling at the moment.

The young Russian is winless in his last six outings, posting a 3.93 GAA and .877 save percentage. Perhaps head coach Jon Cooper was impressed with Vasilevskiy’s relief appearance over the weekend — he stopped all six shots faced in Arizona — or perhaps Cooper just flipped a coin.

As Brough wrote earlier, it’s crunch time for the Lightning right now. The club’s in desperate need of wins, and it’s estimated the Bolts will have to win around 21 of their final 34 games in order to make the playoffs.

If the goaltending doesn’t improve, it ain’t gonna happen.

For Chicago, Corey Crawford gets the start.

Elsewhere…

— The Red Wings will continue to ride Jared Coreau, who is 5-1-2 since his recall from AHL Grand Rapids. Coreau will face Tuukka Rask, who starts for Boston after leaving Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh with a migraine.

— After Jeff Zatkoff failed to impress in his start last night, Peter Budaj returns to the Kings’ net. The host Devils will go with Cory Schneider, who returns from a two-game absence (illness).

— Good matchup in Brooklyn. Thomas Greiss, the NHL’s reigning second star of the week, will start for the Isles, who play host to Sergei Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets.

— As we wrote about yesterday, Jake Allen‘s mental reset will continue as Carter Hutton gets the start in Pittsburgh. He’ll be up against Matt Murray, who’s coming off a 44-save win over Boston on Sunday.

Braden Holtby gets the night off for the Caps, who wills tart Philipp Grubauer in Ottawa. The Sens will go with their workhorse, Mike Condon, who makes his 27th appearance of the year.

Brian Elliott started last night, so Chad Johnson goes for the slumping Flames in Montreal. He’ll be up against Carey Price, who is slumping himself. Price has lost three in a row, and five of his last six.

— The Preds have a good record with Juuse Saros (5-3-1) this year, so they’ll go with him tonight as they host the Sabres. For Buffalo, Robin Lehner is back in after making 36 saves in a win over Montreal over the weekend.

— No confirmed netminders from either side in tonight’s Sharks-Jets game from Winnipeg.

Devan Dubnyk returns to the net for Minnesota, after Darcy Kuemper gave him Sunday night off. Dubnyk will be up against Kari Lehtonen.

Poor goaltending, lack of finish to blame for Kings’ latest loss

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jeff Zatkoff, left, looks at New York Rangers' Mats Zuccarello after Zuccarellos scored a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in New York. The Rangers won 3-2. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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It was the story of the Los Angeles Kings’ season last night in New York:

— Lots of shots, but not enough goals.

— Not many shots against, but too many goals allowed.

The Kings fell 3-2 to Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers despite winning the shot clock by a huge margin: 38-17.

“I think we had a lot of opportunities. You’ve got to finish,” said head coach Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “At the end of the day, we need better goaltending in there.”

Jeff Zatkoff was between the pipes for the Kings. His record fell to 2-7-1 with an .881 save percentage. So expect to see Peter Budaj tonight in New Jersey, and probably Thursday in Carolina, too.

The Kings (22-21-4) have lost four straight and sit three points back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot. The Flames also lost last night, and so did the team immediately below the Kings, the Winnipeg Jets. That was the good news for Sutter’s crew.

But with Jonathan Quick not expected back until March, it’ll be up to Budaj and Zatkoff to give the Kings the goaltending they need to get back into a playoff spot. And that’s a big ask for two guys who’ve played more AHL games than NHL games over the last few years.

As far as the offense is concerned, the Kings badly need more from Anze Kopitar, who only has four goals in 41 games. After all, Tyler Toffoli (lower-body injury) did not make the trip, and Jeff Carter can’t be asked to score every night. Carter (25 goals) and Tanner Pearson (14) are the only Kings with double-digit goal totals.

“We probably out-chanced them, what, five-to-one tonight? It’s the percentages,” said Sutter. “So the percentages are that you score on a percentage of those chances. The other team’s scoring on not-percentage chances, put it that way.”

 

Strong goaltending has given the Sabres a flicker of hope

Buffalo Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson makes a glove save during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
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We’ve written a lot lately about the failed backup goalie situations in Toronto, Edmonton, and Boston, so let’s switch things up and talk about Anders Nilsson in Buffalo, because he’s put up some excellent numbers for the Sabres this season.

Nilsson improved to 7-3-4 with a .930 save percentage after last night’s 39-save triumph over the Flyers. The 26-year-old only allowed one goal in the 4-1 victory. In the three starts he’s made this month, he’s 2-0-1 with a .944 save percentage.

Granted, the Sabres are still a fair bit back of a playoff spot, five points behind Ottawa for third place in the Atlantic Division, with three other teams between them and the Senators.

But thanks in large part to their goaltending, they’re at least feeling some optimism now.

“We’re happy with where we’re at,” forward Sam Reinhart told reporters last night. “We know it’s a long road to get back to where we want to be. … Tonight was another step in the right direction.”

The Sabres acquired Nilsson in an offseason trade with the Blues, sending a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft to St. Louis.

Buffalo GM Tim Murray deserves credit for the move. Though at the same time, it’s worth remembering that Nilsson was not Murray’s first choice to back up Robin Lehner, as the Olean Times Herald explained on the day of the trade:

After the Sabres lost goalie Chad Johnson to his hometown Calgary Flames on Friday, Murray said another backup verbally agreed to an $850,000 contract. The Sabres had even placed the goalie on their depth chart.

Then the goalie took a $900,000 deal with another team, Murray said. Based on the contracts awarded, Jeff Zatkoff, who signed for that money with the Los Angeles Kings, was possibly the player.

Zatkoff, in case you’re wondering, has struggled badly with the Kings, going 2-6-1 with an .886 save percentage.

The Sabres, meanwhile, couldn’t ask for much more from their two netminders, as Lehner has also put up solid numbers with a .921 save percentage in 27 starts.

sabres

Looking ahead, if the Sabres have any hope of making up more ground in the standings, they’ll need their goalies to be good, or even better than good. Buffalo has nine games left in January, and only two of them are at home.

The Sabres’ next game is Thursday in Tampa Bay.