WATCH LIVE: Kings battle Sharks on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks with coverage beginning at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Despite still being in the basement of the Pacific Division, there is some room for optimism for the Kings. LA has won six of its last nine games and beaten some good competition along the way, with victories over Winnipeg, San Jose, Vegas and Colorado. Their latest win came on Saturday in a 4-0 drubbing of the Edmonton Oilers.

Anze Kopitar scored his 300th career goal during the Edmonton game and became the fifth player in franchise history to reach that mark, joining Luc Robitaille (557), Marcel Dionne (550), Dave Taylor (431) and Bernie Nicholls (327). Jonathan Quick needed just 16 saves in the shutout, which was also his 300th career win. The Connecticut native is the fifth U.S.-born goalie to reach the 300 wins.

The Sharks had arguably their best win of the season on Saturday in a 5-2 victory over the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. San Jose’s win snapped Tampa’s winning streak at seven and their point streak at 16. The Sharks became the first team to defeat the Lightning in regulation since Anaheim did so on Nov. 27 (3-1 W). They’ve been red hot since early December, with wins in 11 of their last 16 games (11-3-2).

With two assists on Saturday, Erik Karlsson extended his personal point streak to 12 games (1G, 18A), which is the longest active streak in the NHL. He did miss two games (Dec. 23 and 27) in this stretch due to a suspension from a hit to the head of Kings forward Austin Wagner when these teams last met.

Karlsson is the 21st different defenseman in NHL history to record record at least one point in 12 or more consecutive appearances and just the third to do so in the last 20 years (since 1998-99), joining Mathieu Schneider (Detroit) in 2006 (12 games) and Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia) in 2016 (15 games).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Monday, Jan. 7, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Ilya Kovalchuk – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate Thompson – Austin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinSean Walker
Dion PhaneufOscar Fantenberg

Starting goalie: Jack Campbell

SHARKS
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Kevin Labanc – Barclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Erik Karlsson
Jacob Middleton – Tim Heed

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Jamie Baker (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Kings-Sharks from SAP Center at San Jose. Paul Burmeister hosts studio coverage alongside analyst Anson Carter.

MORE: Timo Meier powering Sharks during breakout season

WATCH LIVE: Sharks host Kings on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday afternoon’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks with coverage beginning at 4 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This is the second of four meetings between the two clubs this season, with San Hose edging out the Kings 3-2 in overtime on Oct. 5 with Kevin Labanc‘s winner.

The visiting Kings are coming off a convincing 4-1 win against the Western Conference-leading Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, and will look to build off their solid effort in that game. The Kings rank last in goals per game at 2.23, 28th on the power play at 13.9% and 29th on the penalty kill at 74.8%.

Interestingly enough, the Sharks lost 5-3 to the Jets their last time out on Thursday, ending a five-game winning streak. The Sharks have still enjoyed a solid December month, going 7-3-0 so far.

The Sharks sit second in the Pacific, four points behind the Calgary Flames. Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 22 goals this season, matching his total through 81 games last year. He’s on pace for 50 and is tied for the seventh most goals (306) since the start of the 2008-09 season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 4 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Saturday, Dec. 22, 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS

Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Adrian KempeJeff CarterTyler Toffoli
Brendan LeipsicNate ThompsonIlya Kovalchuk
Austin WagnerMichael AmadioMatt Luff

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinSean Walker
Daniel BrickleyOscar Fantenberg

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

SHARKS

Evander Kane – Joe Pavelski – Joonas Donskoi
Tomas HertlLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Marcus SorensenJoe Thornton – Kevin Labanc
Lukas RadilBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Trading Jeff Carter would be difficult for Kings

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From our seats – whether those seats are in cubicles or basements or penthouses – making a trade feels as simple as doing so in “NHL 19” or fantasy hockey.

Of course, there are a lot of elements that make it tougher to do so in reality. Maybe the GM you’d normally trade to has been burnt before, or is scared to make a trade after being roasted so many times over social media. Perhaps you’re one of those GMs who just won’t trade Player A to another team in your division, or conference.

Beyond that, there are the human elements. An executive might feel especially loyal to a player who won his team a Stanley Cup or two, and a player may simply not want to leave a market where they’ve put down roots.

Threat of retirement

That’s one thing to consider for the Kings and Jeff Carter, as he told The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman (sub required) when asked about a potential trade.

“It’s the first time in my career I’ve had a family and kids, so it changes it,” Carter said. “Like I said, I can’t really control much of that. When you’re not winning games, that’s how it goes.

“I’ve been on teams like that before. We’ll see.”

Now, some of you in the audience might blurt out “tough,” but the Kings would have bottom-line reasons to take pause. During a recent edition of TSN’s Insider Trading, Bob McKenzie noted that Carter could just decide to retire if a trade didn’t work for him, which would mean that hypothetical team wouldn’t get an expected return, while the Kings would eat a significant cap recapture penalty.

“He doesn’t have no-trade protection, he loves it in L.A. and would love to stay. If he does get traded somewhere he doesn’t want to go, retirement could be an option for him,” McKenzie said, via TSN’s transcription. “That’s why he signed that back-diving contract ­– he’s only leaving $7 million on the table. If he did retire, there is a cap recapture penalty that would hit the LA Kings at $3.75 million in each of the next three years.”

So, in a lot of ways, Carter’s contract carries a self-imposed no-trade clause, or at least allows him to name a team he’d accept a move to.

A budget-friendly contract

It’s interesting, really, because Carter’s contract is so friendly to a budget team. Consider the remaining years of an 11-year deal, which carries a $5.273M (rounded up) cap hit, yet costs much less in salary dollars, via Cap Friendly:

2018-19: $5.273M cap hit, $5M salary
2019-20: $5.273M cap hit, $3M salary
2020-21: $5.273M cap hit, $2M salary
2021-22: $5.273M cap hit, $2M salary

So, really, that might be the silver lining for the Kings. Carter could very well be useful for getting to the cap floor in the future, if this rebuild ends up being long and painful. Considering how lousy the Kings look, how hard Father Time could hit their core, and how limited their prospect base is, a prolonged period of pain is not out of the question.

The other silver lining is that the Kings have other contracts they can move with greater ease.

For quite some time, the Kings have been lampooned for bragging about Jonathan Quick‘s extension, which carries a $5.8M cap hit through 2022-23:

As poorly as those Tweets aged, the Quick deal doesn’t include a no-trade clause. The Kings also have two defensemen who are very appealing and lack such clauses in Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez (though Martinez needs to heal up), while Tyler Toffoli is the other prominent tradable forward who lacks an NMC or NTC.

Yet, there’s another factor that would make it tougher to trade Carter and/or Toffoli:

Selling low

In that Dillman piece, there’s an especially dour moment where Toffoli notes that Carter (or “Carts”) insisted that Toffoli would score again some day, as the winger is on a lengthy goal-less streak.

It brings to mind a recommendation: if the Kings can convince Carter to accept a trade (or eventually make one of those seemingly-phony trips to LTIR if things didn’t work out), they might want to wait a while to actually make a move.

Serious slump

Because, as it stands, Carter’s value couldn’t get a lot colder.

Perhaps Carter needs more time to recover from various ailments, including a recent ankle surgery. He’s 33, so there’s a delicate balance there, but more time might allow Carter to get more spring in his step.

Yet, from a more black-and-white standpoint, Carter’s numbers could use a boost.

Through 34 games, Carter has just six goals and 15 points. He can’t blame being stuck to the bench (like Ilya Kovalchuk was before he got hurt), either, as Carter’s averaging 18:39 TOI per game, his highest average since 2013-14 (when he logged 18:57 per night).

Line him up with Kopitar?

So, that’s not great, but there are some reasons for hope, and perhaps some sneaky ways to pull a “pump-and-dump.”

For one thing, Carter should enjoy at least slightly better bounces going forward. His shooting percentage is at just 6.5 this season, tying a career-low from way back in 2006-07, and way down from a career average of 11.5. Last season, he scored on 15.3 percent of his SOG, so there’s an argument that this revolves around bad luck more than the aging curve. His on-ice shooting percentage (7.4) is lower than usual, too, so multiple indicators point to at least some improvement.

Allow a somewhat audacious suggestion, then: what if the Kings lined up Carter with Anze Kopitar?

With Kovalchuk on the shelf and often in Willie Desjardins’ doghouse, Kopitar’s having to lug Dustin Brown and Alex Iafallo around at even-strength. Why not give Kopitar a more creative linemate? From the looks of their lines at Left Wing Lock, Adrian Kempe‘s currently on Carter’s wing, so it’s not as though Desjardins is totally against experimenting a bit with placing pivots on the wing. What if Carter enjoyed a Claude Giroux-like renaissance on the wing?

It’s not really something the Kings tried, either. According to Natural Stat Trick, Kopitar and Carter have been on the ice together for a measly eight even-strength minutes.

What do the Kings really have to lose? Kempe can slide back to center on a second line, Carter might enjoy more open ice, and Kopitar might enjoy … life again? OK, that’s too much, but he may enjoy hockey more if he had a little extra help.

Perhaps some teams would see this as a shameless way to inflate Carter’s value, but teams often find ways to romanticize a player who could solve [x] ills.

I mean, if the Kings are happy with the miserable status quo, then forget I said anything.

***

As you can see, this isn’t the easiest situation. Trading Carter is tricky in different ways than it would be to trade Quick, Muzzin, Martinez, or Toffoli (and those would be uncomfortable moves as well).

The Kings are already in a tough spot, but they’ll only pile up more challenges if they don’t explore every avenue to improve their situation, even if it means leaving their comfort zone — and finding out how Carter might react to being traded out of his.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kovalchuk hasn’t cured Kings’ power play yet

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The general consensus was that, while age might catch up to 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk during his return to the NHL, his scoring touch would at least pay dividends for the Los Angeles Kings’ power play.

The good news is that Kovalchuk has been a gem at even strength, firing a team-leading 21 shots on goal (3.5 per game, up from his last Devils season SOG average of 3.32), generating four points in six contests. He’s been glued to the puck at times, and while his shot is dangerous, Kovalchuk also boasts the vision to make passes like this ridiculous dish to Alex Iafallo:

While Kovalchuk seems like a quick study alongside Anze Kopitar on the Kings’ top line, Los Angeles’ power play has been as stale as Cartman bleating “Let’s Go Kings!”

Somehow, the combination of Kovalchuk, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and (fill in the blank, really) hasn’t delivered on the power play yet in 2018-19, suffering through a brutal 0-for-21 start.

Seriously though, shouldn’t that quarter power at least an above-average on its own merit? Kovalchuk’s shot ranks as one of the deadliest (and most accurate) of his generation, yet he isn’t the only forward who could pull the trigger from “Ovechkin’s office.” Jeff Carter could conceivably fit that bill at times, too; during his time with the Kings, 48 of his 157 goals came on the man advantage. Combine Carter and Kovalchuk with Doughty – whose offensive game seemed liberated last season – and the Kings should at least be dangerous from the perspective of right-handed shots.

Kopitar (a left-handed shooter) is a fantastic scorer in his own regard, yet he’s not the one-timer threat that Carter or Kovalchuk is, so maybe the missing piece of the puzzle is finding a left-handed bomber.

Maybe Tanner Pearson would be the right fit. Perhaps the Kings could buck the four-forward, one-defenseman trend by adding Dion Phaneuf‘s shot to the mix? Perhaps Tyler Toffoli, another right-handed shot, would instead be the better solution merely by adding more talent?

Those are all interesting questions to explore, and Kings coach John Stevens would be wise to tinker with different setups. Keeping a cool head might be the real key, and Drew Doughty admitted to some frustration even before Los Angeles went 0-for-3 in a 4-1 loss to Toronto.

“I don’t want to say we’re ‘playing scared’ out there, because we’re not playing scared, but we’re overthinking it. Just keep things simple, get pucks to the net,” Doughty said, via LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen. “I’m even going out there – and I’ve never thought this way in my life – and I’m thinking, ‘if we don’t score here, we failed.’ You’re only supposed to succeed on the power play 20, 25-percent of the time. If you look at it that way, you don’t expect to score a goal every single time, but you expect to get momentum every single time.”

Some of the stats back up Doughty’s belief that the Kings might be overthinking things on the power play.

As you can see from this breakdown from The Point, the Los Angeles power play has struggled with the easier-said-than-done basics of setting things up. They haven’t had great success entering the zone or possessing the puck during these opportunities. The Kings might want even more shots from Carter and Kovalchuk, although each forward averages at least one power-play shot per game so far.

An optimist would say that those things will improve as this team gets more familiar with Kovalchuk (and gets Carter back in full swing after missing a lot of time last season). A pessimist might wonder if the Kings’ lack of foot speed and aging core might make for some transition struggles.

It’s worth noting that the Kings are no strangers to starting cold when it comes to 5-on-4 play. Los Angeles began last season on an 0-for-16 drought before rattling off a 3-for-3 night, according to Rosen. Even the best power play units endure a cold streak or two.

Even still, a productive power play could very well sustain the Kings while Jonathan Quick is week-to-week with an injury. If there’s slippage at even-strength, getting things to an optimal level might even make the difference between making or missing the playoffs.

Considering where Kovalchuk, Carter, Kopitar, and Doughty are in their careers, it’s probably too much to ask the Kings’ power play to rival a unit as menacing as that of the Penguins, Capitals, Flyers, or Maple Leafs. They still need to get it right, though, and might need that group to move the needle.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Under Pressure: Ilya Kovalchuk

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings.

Since 2013-14, Ilya Kovalchuk has been plying his trade in the KHL instead of the NHL. Really, with the year before including the abysmal, lockout-shortened campaign, we haven’t really seen much of Kovalchuk at this level since helping the Devils reach the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

For fans of beautiful hockey, such thoughts are borderline offensive.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough]

That said, Kovalchuk gave fans a lot to enjoy over 816 NHL regular-season games, even if many of those contests happened on some crummy Atlanta Thrashers teams. While there’s a lot of “what could have been?” with Kovalchuk, it’s also fitting that he left the NHL with exactly as many points (816) as games played.

The Los Angeles Kings make a lot of sense as the team he’ll return to the NHL with, too.

Most obviously, and also the point of most pressure, is that the Kings need Kovalchuk. They really need a shot in the arm, so landing arguably the most lethal shooter of his generation might just do that.

Yes, the Kings surprised many by making the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, even with Jeff Carter – the closest player they had to a Kovalchukian sniper – mostly on the shelf in 2017-18.

That’s great, but it only does so much to mask recent struggles. After all, the Kings were swept from the first round, have only won one playoff game since winning the 2014 Stanley Cup, and have missed the postseason altogether in two of the last four seasons.

Kovalchuk and the Kings are bonded by a scary question: “How much do they have left?”

The good news is that Kovalchuk performed well during his KHL sojourn, and seemed to be his usual self in international competition. Still, the aging curve can be especially unkind to snipers, and Kovalchuk’s a 35-year-old who’s been playing a lot of hockey considering he jumped straight from being the top pick of the 2001 NHL Draft to full-time duty with Atlanta in 2001-02.

At least his confidence hasn’t wavered all that much, as PHT’s Sean Leahy noted after Kovalchuk came to terms with the Kings.

“When I was making my decision, it was all about hockey because I have three or four years left in my tank where I can really play at a high level,” Kovalchuk said. “L.A. has a great group of guys. Like I said, great goaltending, great defense, and they have one of the best centers in the league. I never had a chance to play with those kinds of guys, so it’s really exciting for me. It’s great.”

The situation he’ll be in with the Kings could make a big impact on how seamless his transition back to the NHL might be.

During Kovalchuk’s days with the Devils, he’d log a jaw-dropping amount of ice time (we’re talking “deployment usually reserved for top defensemen”-type stuff), and that would often mean spending tons of time playing the point on the power play. Los Angeles seems to have a simple-and-wise plan for Kovalchuk, considering his age and world-class shot: put him in Alex Ovechkin‘s “office.”

“We just want him to do exactly what [Alex] Ovechkin does,” Luc Robitaille said to The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman during draft weekend (sub required).

While we’ll have to see if it works in practice, this is a really bright idea on paper.

Speaking of things that make sense, at least in our minds, Kovalchuk and Anze Kopitar could form a symbiotic relationship that could pay big dividends for the Kings.

Kopitar would rank as Kovalchuk’s best center in ages, if ever, at the NHL level. Meanwhile, Kovalchuk presents a dramatic skill boost for Kopitar, who put up an incredible effort lugging Dustin Brown and Alex Iafallo last season.

(All due respect to Brown’s bounce-back efforts and Iafallo’s scrappy work, but Kovalchuk presents a tantalizing upgrade. Ideally.)

Kovalchuk’s contract is another interesting element to this situation.

He could very well be a huge bargain, considering his skills at a fairly modest $6.25 million cap hit. Kovalchuk surely could have held out for more dollars, particularly on a shorter contract, but he made it clear that he wanted to compete too. (Granted, the sunny climes of Los Angeles probably didn’t hurt, either.)

On the other hand, Kovalchuk counts as a 35+ contract, so this could get ugly if it’s clear that the NHL game passed him by in a stark way.

If onlookers give Kovalchuk a fair shake as a talented player whose age will probably limit his all-around abilities, and maybe open the door for the normally-sturdy winger to maybe deal with the occasional injury, then this could be a happy marriage.

Talented players like Kovalchuk often open the door for out-sized expectations, and harsh criticisms, however, so this one could go either way.

Whatever happens, Kovalchuk makes this Kings team a lot more intriguing in 2018-19.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.