Jonathan Quick

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.

No NHLers would leave Olympic tourney with familiar, old look

27 FEB 1994:  CANADIAN GOALKEEPER COREY HIRSCH SAVES FROM PATRIK JUHLIN OF SWEDEN IN THE FINAL OF THE ICE HOCKEY TOURNAMENT AT THE 1994 WINTER OLYMPICS IN LILLEHAMMER. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dunn/ALLSPORT
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If the NHL doesn’t send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics, the hockey tournament in Pyeongchang will look familiar.

It will look a lot like the Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994, Albertville in 1992 and Calgary in 1988.

Maybe even a little like 1980 in Lake Placid, site of the “Miracle On Ice.”

With a year before the opening ceremony, the league, players union, International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee still don’t have an agreement to send NHL players to their sixth consecutive Olympics. There is still time — an agreement last time around came in July before the 2014 Games in Sochi — but everyone is forming a Plan B just in case.

Read more: IOC chief calls it a priority for NHLers to be at Olympics

Russia might have Alex Ovechkin if he makes good on his intention to go no matter what. But the United States, Canada and other countries are preparing for life without the best players in the world.

If the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, Jack Eichel and Ryan Suter aren’t available, USA Hockey will look mostly to the college ranks. If Hockey Canada can’t take Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty or Carey Price, it will try to defend the gold medal with a mix of European-based professionals, North American minor leaguers and players from the Canadian junior leagues and NCAA.

“It’s a big world, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go,” Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said. “Should the NHL choose not to go, we’ll make sure we’re ready, willing and able a year from now.”

The U.S. has a fresh set of heroes after shootout star Troy Terry, defenseman Charlie McAvoy and goaltender Tyler Parsons won world junior gold last month. Mix them with top college players like Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork and Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic and ex-NHLers Keith Aucoin and Nathan Gerbe who are playing in Europe, and the Americans will have plenty of youth and experience.

Dave Starman, a former coach in the minors and now an analyst for CBS Sports, said USA Hockey’s priority should be scoring, scoring and more scoring.

“You can’t win unless you can score,” Starman said. “It’s got to have a ton of speed, it’s got to have a really high skill level, it’s got to have defensemen who can get in the play. You need a little bit of dog on bone in your lineup, but I don’t think you can sacrifice skill guys for toughness.”

No problem there for Canada, which has plenty of big, tough skill players and hasn’t waited for the IIHF to set any 2018 parameters as it prepares its contingency plan. Canada’s team for the December Spengler Cup in Switzerland could serve as a blueprint: minor leaguers Cory Conacher and Zach Fucale and European recent NHL players Daniel Paille and Nick Spaling.

While IIHF President Rene Fasel would like a final decision sooner than later to plan for South Korea, Renney said Hockey Canada could put a team together quickly. Like USA Hockey, Canada can pull from its national junior team but has more veteran talent in Europe and the American Hockey League to choose from. Former NHL goaltender Ben Scrivens in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey league is an option, for example, as is journeyman Michael Leighton, who is in the Carolina Hurricanes’ system.

Though Leighton firmly believes NHL players will go, the 35-year-old said he would “train as hard as I possibly can to get that job” if they don’t. AHL president and CEO David Andrews expects his league to be open to allowing players to go to the Olympics as long as NHL teams give individual minor leaguers permission.

“I think it’ll be an interesting question, though, for a lot of general managers because the player that is going to be asked for is going to be probably their No. 1 player outside the NHL club,” Andrews said. “They kind of face that question of, `Do we want our No. 1 call-up to be in South Korea for two or three weeks?”‘

Some NHL owners might even give their elite players permission to go, and Ted Leonsis of the Washington Capitals has said repeatedly he’d let Ovechkin, Swede Nicklas Backstrom and Canadian Braden Holtby represent their countries, though Holtby said he would never leave the Capitals midseason. The IIHF might set roster parameters to prevent NHL players from participating, too.

“We want to have that opportunity,” two-time U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk said. “If that’s taken from us and we don’t have that right anymore, at least it gives other guys an opportunity.”

Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe would be fine with that. After winning a silver medal playing for the U.S. in 1972, he supports amateurs because he feels the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” victory over the Soviet Union had a greater impact on the sport than professionals playing in the Olympics.

“Probably the greatest victory I think I’ve ever seen in hockey was when the 1980 team beat the Russians,” Howe said. “There was some guys on that team that never had a chance to play in the NHL or impact the NHL. That was their two weeks of fame. A guy like Mike Eruzione, Jimmy Craig – they’re phenomenal stories.”

True, but 1998 and 2002 U.S. Olympian John LeClair is worried about a talent discrepancy next winter if Russia put Ovechkin and dominant KHL players Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk against American college kids.

“You get different variations of who’s playing and who’s not,” LeClair said. “You’re getting back to what it used to be where Russia had all their pros. You want everybody on an even (playing) field.”

Related: Bettman points finger at IOC

Pre-game reading: On Peter Budaj, who’s been a great story for the Kings

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— Up top, Eric Staal reflects on his first year in Minnesota, which has gone rather well we’d say. The Wild committed just $10.5 million over three years to Staal. Quite the bargain for GM Chuck Fletcher.

— An excellent read on Peter Budaj, the 34-year-old netminder with the $600,000 contract who’s been so good for the Kings in the wake of Jonathan Quick‘s injury. “When you look at where I was at the beginning of the year, or maybe two years ago, not many people would give me this kind of a chance to become anybody. Nobody, I think, in the hockey world would believe that I’d be here. Not even me.”  (Sports Illustrated)

— The Winnipeg Jets have an interesting decision to make about Bryan Little. The 29-year-old center is eligible to sign a contract extension this summer, and he’d apparently love to do just that. But GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to be careful not to overpay. Though Little is an under-rated player, he’s already got 646 NHL games under his belt, and he’s getting to the point in his career where many players start to decline. (TSN)

— With all we’re learning about the long-term effects of concussions, it can be pretty darn scary to get one these days. Take it from Devils defenseman John Moore, who had to be stretchered off the ice on New Year’s Eve after getting hit from behind by Washington’s Tom Wilson. “For about a week, I really wasn’t myself at all,” Moore said. “I couldn’t remember things, I was angry all the time, and anxious. I know I wasn’t easy to be around, just not myself. It was scary, really scary.” The good news? Moore is hoping to return to New Jersey’s lineup soon, possibly even Sunday against San Jose. (Yahoo Sports)

Frederik Andersen plays a lot of games for the Maple Leafs, and he faces a lot of shots. In fact, as noted by Jonas Siegel of the Canadian Press: “The 27-year-old is on pace to face 2,173 shots in his first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, in what would be the 15th highest total ever. Only 31 times in league history has a goaltender faced even 2,100 shots in a single season — Pekka Rinne and Cam Ward the last to do so five years ago.” Andersen stopped 38 of 40 shots in Thursday’s 2-1 OT loss to St. Louis. Though he didn’t get the win, it was a solid performance after four straight tough outings. (Canadian Press)

— Speaking of busy goalies, here’s an interview with Bruins starter Tuukka Rask, who had the following to say about the new, slimmer pants that all NHL netminders must wear now: “The way they feel, it will increase scoring, for sure.” Not all goalies feel the same way, but Rask believes the pants are “so much slimmer from your hips and thighs that some pucks that would normally hit your pants will go right through.” (ESPN)

Enjoy the games!

Jeff Carter is the engine driving the Kings this season

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When you look at the 2016-17 Los Angeles Kings, one of the biggest individual performances has to belong to goaltender Peter Budaj, opening the season No. 3 on the depth chart, being thrown into the starting job due to injury and then putting together the best season of his career while filling in for Jonathan Quick. But for as great as that performance has been, the MVP for the Kings right now has to be forward Jeff Carter, because without him they probably wouldn’t have enough offense to stay in the playoff hunt no matter how well Budaj — or any other goaltender —  has performed for them in net.

After his overtime goal on Saturday to help lift the Kings to a 1-0 win in Philadelphia, Carter enters play on Sunday with 27 goals on the season is currently second in the league, three behind Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead, and two ahead of Alex Ovechkin, his opponent (and the other half of NBC’s Star Sunday feature) on Sunday.

As usual, the Kings are finding ways to win this season with defense.

They are limiting teams to less than 26 shots on goal per game, are once again in the top-five in goals against, and continue to play a brand of hockey that can render any opposing offense, no matter how good it is, completely useless. But that commitment to defense tends to limit things at the other end of the ice for them as well, and they enter play on Sunday with only 132 goals (23rd in the NHL). It is not exactly a potent group offensively.

The one exception to that this season has been Carter, and he has done his part to almost single handedly carry their offense this season.

Just consider…

  • Only one other player on the Kings has scored more than eight goals this season, while nobody else has more than 15 (Tanner Pearson has 15)
  • His 27 goals represent more than 20 percent of the Kings’ goal total this season, by far the largest percentage of any player in the NHL. The only players that have scored more than 16 percent of their teams goals this season are Sidney Crosby (16.4 percent of the Penguins’ goals) and Brad Marchand (16.1 percent of the Bruins’ goals)
  • His 47 points are 15 more than the second leading scorer on the team, and give him a hand in more than 30 percent of the team’s goals. They have earned points in the standings in four games this season where he was the only Kings player to score a goal.
  • His 165 shots on goal are 45 more than any other player on the team

In other words, pretty much everything about the Kings offense this season runs through Carter.

He has always been one of the NHL’s top goal scorers, and since entering the league in 2005-06 is seventh with 334 goals during that stretch (Ovechkin, by the way, is first with 550) and has three top-10 finishes, including two in the top-four.

But while he has played — and scored — at a high level before, his performance this season might be his best and most significant one to date just because of how much it means to this particular Kings team.

Budaj’s league-leading seventh shutout lifts Kings to fifth win in a row

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 20:  Peter Budaj #31 of the Los Angeles Kings makes a save during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 20, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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With starting goalie Jonathan Quick sidelined since the season opener the Los Angeles Kings have had to rely on Peter Budaj, a player that started the season as their No. 3 goalie on the organizational depth chart to take over the starting job.

At this point it would be quite an understatement to say that he has exceeded expectations.

His 17-save performance in a 1-0 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon was not only his third shutout in the past four games, but it was also his league-leading seventh shutout of the season. Washington’s Braden Holtby (six) is the only other goalie in the league that currently has more than five.

Along with giving him sole possession of first place on the NHL’s shutout leaderboard, it also improved his save percentage to .923 for the season and lifted the Kings to their fifth win in a row.

For as much of a surprise as Budaj has been this season filling in for Quick, it is another reminder that the biggest factor in the Kings’ success over the past few years has been a collective defensive effort that shuts down opposing offenses better than any other team in the league. Since the start of the 2011-12 season no team has allowed fewer shots on goal than the Kings, while they have never finished worse than fifth in a single season. Over the past five years they have never finished lower than third and are leading the league in terms of shot suppression this season. They have been, quite simply, the most dominant defensive team in the league for six years now.

That was especially true on Saturday when they completely shut down a Flyers team that once again sat two of its best young players, Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny, as healthy scratches, limiting them to just 17 shots on goal and only 44 total shot attempts.

Had it not been for a spectacular showing by Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth in net they likely would not have needed overtime to pick up the two points.

It was during that overtime that Jeff Carter continued his magnificent season for the Kings and scored his 27th goal of the season to beat his former team.

With that goal he is now just one goal behind Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby for the league lead.