Mike Halford

Darryl Sutter

Sending a message? Sutter not happy Kings opened lengthy trip with just 12 forwards


The Los Angeles Kings are dealing with a depth issue up front — and according to head coach Darryl Sutter, it hasn’t been dealt with very well.

“[We] shouldn’t go on the trip with 12 forwards,” Sutter told LA Kings Insider on Thursday, with the team in the midst of a lengthy six-game road swing. “When you’re gone that long, it should not be that situation.

“We did that last year, and it caught up in January. It’s why we didn’t make the playoffs.”

The Kings opened their current trip on Tuesday with a 3-2 OT win in Columbus, a game in which only 11 forwards dressed. Kyle Clifford was a late scratch due to injury and, per the LA Times, the club “did not know Clifford was ailing until it was too late to recall a player.”

With Trevor Lewis and Dwight King already sidelined, the Clifford injury left L.A. shorthanded.

(The Times also wondered if Sutter was sending a message, noting that his remarks were unprompted.)

This, of course, isn’t the first time the team’s operated with an undermanned roster.

Last year, injuries and cap constraints forced L.A. to play just five defensemen in a November game against Vancouver, a situation Sutter said was not ideal. By the time the club missed the playoffs in April, many were pointing to fatigue and a lack of energy as a big reason why.

“It’s a battle down right to the end, and we just weren’t consistent enough throughout the course of the season,” former Kings center Jarret Stoll told NHL.com. “We were chasing that wild card, chasing the eighth spot, chasing third in our division. It just felt like we were chasing it all year, and we couldn’t finish it off.”

On Wednesday, the Kings did recall a forward — Michael Mersch, the 23-year-old goalscorer from AHL Ontario.

He’s expected to make his NHL debut when L.A. takes on the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

Flames spoil Ristolainen’s hat trick, beat Sabres 4-3

Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, David Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) Johnny Gaudreau returned after leaving with an apparent injury and put Calgary ahead late to spoil Rasmus Ristolainen‘s hat trick in the Flames’ 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.

Gaudreau exited in the first period after a collision but returned for the second. In the third period, he worked a give-and-go with Sean Monahan, then zipped a low shot through Chad Johnson‘s pads with 4:50 left for the 4-3 lead.

Monahan had two goals and an assist, and Markus Granlund also scored in Calgary’s fourth straight win. Jonas Hiller stopped 27 shots.

Ristolainen scored three goals in the final period, including a tying tally with 5:45 remaining. That one came when he banked a shot from the corner off the skates of Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman and past Hiller.

Monahan has seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last four games, all of them victories as Calgary enjoys its longest winning streak of the season.

The Flames have won eight in a row at home for the first time since Feb. 23 to March 27, 2013. The franchise record is 10 straight.

Johnson turned away 28 shots.

In the six-team logjam behind Los Angeles in the Pacific Division, the Flames are tied with Edmonton for fewest points, yet are just four points back of second-place Vancouver and with two games in hand.

The Sabres were 3-0-1 in their previous four games before heading to Western Canada for a three-game trip, but return home having lost all three games, including losses to the Canucks and Oilers.

Monahan opened the scoring at 5:46 of the second period. Brandon Bollig began the sequence with a pass back to Wideman at the blue line. His shot was stopped, but Monahan picked up the loose puck and fired into the net.

With 8 seconds left in the second, Granlund gave Calgary a two-goal cushion by converting a setup from Joe Colborne for his third goal in the last five games.

Ristolainen erased the Flames’ lead with a pair of power-play goals to open the third.

Monahan’s go-ahead goal at 9:25 came on a setup from Gaudreau, who found him alone in front. From there, he fired his 10th of the season.

It was only Hiller’s second start since the end of October. He gave up five goals on 29 shots in a loss to San Jose on Nov. 28.

Karri Ramo was supposed to start his 16th game in his last 17 but came down with a worse flu than what was already ailing Hiller, who had to leave practice early on Wednesday and was not on the ice at the morning skate Thursday.

Notes: Jiri Hudler (flu) was a scratch for Calgary. In his absence, Bollig played for the first time in six games. … Flames coach Bob Hartley coached career game No. 890, moving him ahead of Punch Imlach and into 31st on the NHL career list.

‘We stopped checking’: Hitch vents as Blues lose for fourth time in five games

Claude Giroux, Brian Elliott

ST. LOUIS (AP) It was probably fine that Claude Giroux couldn’t remember how he scored his goal on Thursday night. It should be all over the highlight shows for him to see.

Giroux’s 11th goal of the season capped Philadelphia’s three-goal second period and the Flyers beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Thursday night for their fourth straight road win.

Giroux made it 3-1 with by blowing past two St. Louis defenders and scoring with a forehand-to-backhand deke. He finished with a goal and two assists.

“It was a nice goal,” Giroux said. “To be honest, I don’t really remember what happened, but we were up 2-1 there and we wanted that third goal. I was pretty happy.”

Michael Raffl and Matt Read also scored in the second and Ryan White added an empty-net goal to help the Flyers snap a two-game skid. Michal Neuvirth made 35 saves.

“What I see tonight is we had good goaltending, we had a good four-line effort, all six defensemen did a good job,” Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol said. “… It’s a tough place to win and it’s a good team win for us.”

Robby Fabbri and David Backes scored and Brian Elliott made 25 saves for the Blues. St. Louis has lost four of five games in December.

“We stopped checking,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I’m sure the players said the same thing. Stopped checking. Stopped checking, opened up gaps, had some soft plays in the scoring areas against us and that gave them the three goals.”

The Blues are 2-3-2 over their last seven games and 5-6-3 over their last 14 after starting the season 11-3-1.

“This is a league, the more you check, the more you have the puck,” Hitchcock said. “The more you stay on the hunt, the more you play on your toes, the more you close gaps, the more you have the puck. When you’re inconsistent in that level, you open it up. This has been an ongoing theme for a little while and we’ve got to get it solved.”

After Fabbri opened the scoring 1:35 into the second period, the Flyers responded with three consecutive goals.

Raffl scored just 2:20 after Fabbri when he tipped in a centering pass from Brayden Schenn for his third of the season and first goal in 11 games. Giroux also picked up an assist on the goal.

Read scored his fifth at 6:39 when he collected a rebound of a long shot from Michael Del Zotto and was able to wrap it around Elliott while falling to the ice. Wayne Simmonds‘ secondary assist was his 100th assist with the Flyers and 300th career point.

Giroux scored with 1:54 remaining in the second when he skated around Magnus Paajarvi and faked out Elliott. Schenn and Nick Schultz assisted on the goal.

“That’s pretty amazing to watch him put it under the D-man’s stick and was able to make the deke at full speed,” Schenn said. “That’s a nice goal and I’m sure you’ll see that one on the highlight reel many times.”

Fabbri scored his fifth goal after he was left alone in the slot. Dmitrij Jaskin found the rookie forward with a centering pass from behind the net.

Backes scored on the Blues’ first power play of the game, 7:37 into the third period, after Simmonds went off for hooking. Backes redirected a shot from Alexander Steen and then slipped the rebound past Neuvirth for his eighth of the season.

Giroux assisted on White’s empty-netter with 1.7 seconds left.

NOTES: The win was the first for the Flyers in St. Louis since Dec. 17, 2005. … Flyers D Radko Gudas returned after serving a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Senators F Mike Zibanejad. He finished plus-4 in 22:53 minutes of ice time after being minus-1 in his first 22 games. … Elliott was making his first start at home since Oct. 24. … The Blues have not won two straight games since Nov. 7-10, a span of 14 games. … The attendance of 14,428 was a season low for St. Louis.

Helm scores twice, sends slumping Habs to fourth straight loss


DETROIT (AP) Darren Helm‘s second goal with 6:01 left in the third period broke a tie and lifted the Detroit Red Wings to a 3-2 comeback win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.

Helm scored 1:12 after Justin Abdelkader pulled Detroit into a 2-all tie, scoring off his right skate on a goal that stood after video review.

Petr Mrazek made 21 saves for the Red Wings, whose 12-game point streak matches their longest since 2010.

The Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens have lost four straight, their worst skid in a season that started with a 9-0 record and 18 wins in their first 24 games.

Montreal’s Tomas Fleischmann scored a go-ahead goal 4:30 into the third period, but goaltender Dustin Tokarski couldn’t make it stand up. Tokarski stopped 26 shots in his first start of the season while replacing rookie Mike Condon, who has been filling in for the injured Carey Price. Condon gave up three goals in each of his last three games, all losses in regulation.

Helm broke a scoreless tie midway through the second period and Montreal’s Sven Andrighetto tied it a couple minutes later.

Fleischmann’s slap shot from the inside of the right circle beat Mrazek’s blocker. The winger went to the penalty box midway through the third, but Detroit didn’t take advantage. The Red Wings had another power play with 7:30 left and made the most of the opportunity off a faceoff won by Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg later had the puck and made a centering pass that Abdelkader redirected into the net with the outside of his right skate.

Montreal defenseman Greg Pateryn had a chance to clear the puck before the game-winning goal, but it went off Datsyuk and stayed in the zone. Abdelkader got to the puck, skated across the crease and lifted the puck past the sprawled-out Tokarski.

The Canadiens hurt their chances to extending the game beyond regulation because P.K. Subban was called for delay of game, putting him to the penalty box with 1:44 left. Montreal pulled Tokarski soon thereafter to have the same number of skaters on the ice, but couldn’t score to tie the game.

NOTES: Montreal had a lot of fans in Joe Louis Arena, chanting “Go Habs Go!” much to the dismay of fans in Detroit. … Dan Petry, a former pitcher who helped the Detroit Tigers win the 1984 World Series, attended the game to watch his son, Montreal D Jeff Petry. … Condon won nine of his first 14 starts this season. … The Canadiens were leading their conference at the start of play on Dec. 10 for the first time since the 1991-92 season. … Detroit drafted Fleischmann in 2002, with the No. 63 overall pick, and traded him to Washington two years later to acquire Robert Lang

Quenneville: Hawks’ first period in blowout loss to Preds ‘as ugly as I’ve ever seen us play’

Paul Gaustad, Andrew Desjardins

Suffice to say Joel Quenneville wasn’t pleased with how Chicago opened tonight’s ugly 5-1 loss in Nashville.

“That was hard to watch, that first 20 minutes,” Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s as ugly as I’ve ever seen us play.”

A quick rundown of what transpired over the course of the first period:

— Nashville scored three times in under 10 minutes: one from James Neal, one from Craig Smith and one from Filip Forsberg.

— Nashville out-shot Chicago 18-7.

— Nashville won just under 60 percent of the faceoffs at even strength.

— Nashville nearly chased Scott Darling from the game. The only things that saved Darling were 1) the ‘Hawks have a game tomorrow which, presumably, Corey Crawford is supposed to start, and 2) Quenneville said the terrible first period had nothing to do with his goalie.

Make no mistake, the Preds were jacked up for tonight’s affair. On Tuesday, they suffered a 4-1 defeat to these same ‘Hawks at the United Center — Nashville’s third loss in four games — despite badly outshooting Chicago (37-24) and carrying the play at times.

Afterward, an irate Shea Weber took his team to task.

“You can sit here and say we’re getting chances, but who cares, we’re not winning games, we’re not scoring goals,” the captain said, per the Preds website. “That’s the bottom line — it’s not good enough.”

Sounds like the Preds got Weber’s message.

Related: The streak continues: Kane scores, now has points in 24 straight