WATCH LIVE: Wild host Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Minnesota returns home after losing at Philadelphia last night, 7-4 – tying their most goals allowed in a game this season. The Wild jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and led 3-2 in the second period before the Flyers scored three straight to take a 5-3 lead into the third. Ryan Suter scored in the third to cut the deficit to one but that was as close as the Wild got, ultimately falling to the Flyers, who sit last in the Metropolitan Division.

Zach Parise leads the team with 41 points (19G-22A) and is averaging 0.93 pts/game – his best since 2009-10 (1.01 w/ NJ). He has 12 points (four goals) over the last 10 games. He’s on pace for 35 goals this season, which would be his most since that 2009-10 campaign.

This game begins a road-heavy stretch for the Kings, who will play nine of their next 10 games away from Staples Center. Tonight marks the start of a three-game road trip, followed by one home game against the Blues, before a six-game East Coast road trip.

Ilya Kovalchuk has gone 10 straight games without a goal, but he has three assists in his last four games and his play has improved in the eyes of Kings head coach Willie Desjardins. In November and December, Kovalchuk had been buried in the lineup and even played as little as 6:20 in a game (on Nov. 25 vs. Edmonton). But his usage has increased lately and he played 20:53 on Saturday, his third-highest total of the season, and most under Desjardins.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild
Where: Xcel Energy Center
When: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

[Should Wild’s future include Bruce Boudreau?]

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Ilya Kovalchuk – Anze KopitarDustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate ThompsonMatt Luff

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez
Dion PhaneufOscar Fantenberg

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

WILD
Jordan GreenwayEric StaalNino Niederreiter
Zach Parise – Charlie CoyleLuke Kunin
Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkMatt Hendricks

Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinGreg Pateryn
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Alex Stalock

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Jim Fox (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Xcel Energy Center.

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

Sorting out the sad mess between Kovalchuk, Kings

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Even at 35, the only logical explanation for Ilya Kovalchuk playing just six minutes and 20 seconds for the moribund Los Angeles Kings would be that he was hurt.

OK, if it was later in the season – in an alternate universe where this team is … good – maybe the Kings would be resting Kovalchuk heading into the postseason. Instead, still-new Kings head coach Willie Desjardins admitted that it was a coach’s decision during Los Angeles’ 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.

LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen passes along quotes where both sides are straining to say as close to the right things as possible.

“I don’t know how to be on the bench because that’s the first time in my career I sat there for the third period, but I’m that kind of guy – I don’t care, we were winning, and that’s all that matters,” Kovalchuk said.

You can practically feel Kovalchuk saying those things through gritted teeth, and Desjardins’ comments got pretty weird, as if he’s expecting Kovalchuk to snap at any moment.

” … He’s in a tough one,” Desjardins said. “He’s got to score on his chances, he’s got to create some offense, but like I said before, when I call his name, he’s excited to go. It hasn’t happened yet that I’ve called him and he’s like kind of where he doesn’t care. That’s a good sign. That’s a tough role for a guy that’s played so well in the NHL. That’s a tough role for him.”

Look, Kovalchuk isn’t perfect. No one could reasonably expect that from him at his age, particularly on a struggling team that’s playing a style that simply isn’t in rhythm with an NHL that’s getting faster and more skilled.

But that “we won the game” shield is flimsy for a team that’s solidly last in the league in standings points, and it’s patently absurd that such an offense-needy group isn’t finding every excuse to get Kovalchuk on the ice.

And, uh, judging by his linemates (Nate Thompson and Sheldon Rempal, who is not a created player in NHL 19 franchise mode), it sounds like things aren’t thawing out just yet.

Even with this nine-game pointless drought in mind, Kovalchuk remains tied for the Kings’ scoring lead alongside Drew Doughty with 14 points.

Just about every number feels like a flashing sign pointing to the Kings leaning more on Kovalchuk (or trading Kovalchuk), not less. Consider that:

  • Their power play success rate is an abysmal 15.3 percent, the fourth-worst mark in the NHL so far in 2018-19.
  • The Kings’ 50 goals scored ranks last in the league, and their 2.17 goals-per-game average is only better than their pals in Anaheim.
  • Sure, Los Angeles often marches to the slow beat of its own drum, which used to mean hogging the puck. That’s not really working out so well, as they’re allowing three more shots per game (31.2) than they’re generating (28.1).
  • Maybe Desjardins was placed in a position to fail with the Vancouver Canucks, but his reputation as “Whiteboard Willie” didn’t exactly remain ironclad. We’re talking about a coach who only saw one Canucks team make the playoffs in three seasons, and never won a playoff series. His current coaching record is under .500 (113-116-27). Should a lame duck coach really be estranging such an important player, and for what sure looks like minimal-at-best gains?
  • More on those minimal gains: it really might be true that the Kings’ best chance to win is to play low-event hockey, which likely wouldn’t mean optimizing Kovalchuk. (Although, even then, he could have some use on the power play and in offensive zone starts.) But, really, what’s the ceiling on such a gameplan for the Kings? At some point you’re just fighting against reality.

The trading question

Honestly, if I were in Kovalchuk’s position or running the Kings, a trade seems like it would be the wisest idea for both sides. Sometimes it’s best just to admit that you made a mistake and call for a mulligan.

Simply put, the Kings could very well scrounge together a respectable bid for a playoff berth, but you’d really need to be sipping the Kool-Aid to believe that this aging bunch really has a shot at the Stanley Cup. Just about everything broke the Kings’ way in 2017-18, and that run ended with them getting absolutely smoked by the Vegas Golden Knights.

(That was a tight series scoring-wise, but my goodness did the Kings ever look overmatched.)

Kovalchuk is staring down the barrel of a nightmare situation: playing on a bad team and possibly warming the bench for the first time in his career.

Now, it’s undeniable that Kovalchuk chose the Kings as his free agent destination, and probably for reasons beyond winning. While Kovalchuk isn’t getting Lebron James’ marketing opportunities, the friendly weather of Los Angeles likely weighed heavily in Kovalchuk’s thought process.

Even a hit-or-miss coach like Desjardins will probably get the memo and play Kovalchuk at a more respectable level soon, too. At minimum, management should demand as much, even if a trade ends up happening. You don’t exactly want to flatten his value altogether, do you?

With a full no-movement clause through the first two seasons and the option of providing a seven-team list in 2020-21 (via Cap Friendly), it would be Kovalchuk’s call to accept a trade. A potential team would carry the additional risks of Kovalchuk’s deal being a 35+ contract, too.

But, really, why wouldn’t Kovalchuk want to shake the Etch-a-Sketch here? This is a miserable situation that might not get much worse, and there are other teams with better chances of contending and warmer climates. Heck, if the former Atlanta Thrasher were to land with another Sunbelt team, he’d be able to keep a larger portion of that $6.25M cap hit.

The Kings should be looking to the future as much as possible, and dealing Kovalchuk – again, if he wanted it – could really allow them to stockpile some assets.

Consider a scenario where the Kings take on a bad contract to make a Kovalchuk trade work, with the bonus being a better return? What if the Kings took David Clarkson‘s contract off of Vegas’ hands, offered the Flyers a jolt of life while absorbing Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M, or allowed the Penguins to admit that the Jack Johnson signing was a free agent flub of their own?

The organization seems ready to make more changes, as Elliotte Friedman briefly alluded to in the latest edition of “31 Thoughts” for Sportsnet:

11. Last week, I reported that Los Angeles wanted to see how things changed after hiring Willie Desjardins and trading Tanner Pearson for Carl Hagelin. That patience has expired.

***

None of this is to say that a Kovalchuk trade is necessarily pressing or likely. He may simply refuse to play anywhere else. Considering his age, Kovalchuk might just want to stay put.

Imagining him in other places is fun, especially when no one’s having fun in this current L.A. situation.

One thing’s clear: if Desjardins really wants to keep this job for a while, he better press the right buttons with Kovalchuk and others. So far … not so good.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Nylander close to returning; Sabres winning tight games

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

William Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs are close to agreeing on a new contract, but there’s only one week to go before they can sign a deal. (Sportsnet)

• Mike Babcock believes that his team is getting Auston Matthews and Nylander in their lineup next week. (TSN)

• The chances of the Ottawa Senators moving to a downtown arena are slim to none now. (Silver Seven Sens)

• What can the issues be between Eugene Melnyk and his partner John Ruddy? (Ottawa Citizen)

• The Sabres have found a way to win a lot of late games during their current nine-game winning streak. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

Carl Hagelin, who was acquired from Pittsburgh last week, is already on the shelf. (NHL.com/Kings)

Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have given the Bruins a solid one-two punch in goal this season. (Bruins Daily)

• It’s time for the Hurricanes to give up on Scott Darling as a starting netminder. (Canes Country)

• The Washington Capitals will give Barry Trotz his Stanley Cup ring prior to their upcoming game against the Islanders on Monday night. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Florida Panthers have had a hard time executing this season, and that’s why they’ve had some so-so results in 2018-19. (Panther Parkway)

• How far are the Flyers from hitting rock bottom in GM Ron Hextall’s mind? Here’s a weekly observation on what’s going on in Philly. (NBC Sports Philly)

• Jaromir Jagr will be a key ambassador for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. “Jaromir Jagr will be the face of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022, and will help in the preparation and development of Chinese hockey.” (ESPN)

Matthew Tkachuk continues to get better and better as he gains in experience. (Flames Nation)

• The next wave of young Finnish defensemen are going to be special. Just take a look at Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen, Chicago’s Henri Jokiharju and Calgary’s Juuso Valimaki. (EP Rinkside)

• The Winnipeg Jets have claimed Marko Dano off waivers. This is his second tour of duty with the team. (Jets Nation)

• Randy Carlyle hasn’t been fired by Anaheim yet, but some Ducks fans are ready to name his replacement. (Pucks of a Feather)

• The Vancouver Canucks are hiring big head mascots to skate on the ice during games. That’s just what they needed to break out of their funk. (Daily Hive)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Trading Ryans: Rangers get Strome, Oilers nab Spooner

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Perhaps mid-November is the time for lateral trades and troubling injuries?

Oilers fans probably tense up whenever their team makes a trade, yet this one is more of a shoulder shrug than a forehead-slapper: Edmonton receives Ryan Spooner, while the New York Rangers get Ryan Strome.

(Hey, stop yawning.)

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Rangers retained $900K of Spooner’s salary (for each of the next seasons) to make the trade work; each forward now carries a $3.1 million cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

You really need to crane your neck to see the differences between Strome, 25, and Spooner, 26. Reactions have gone both ways as far as which team “won” the trade, as you might expect from a move that more or less merely shakes things up.

Plenty of people are, instead, merely enjoying just how negligible the difference is between the two forwards:

… Or using this as another opportunity to ridicule bumbling Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, who acquired Strome in that ill-fated Jordan Eberle trade before the 2017-18 season.

As PHT’s Adam Gretz notes, this trade is mainly a reminder of past mistakes:

Chiarelli drafted Spooner during his days with the Boston Bruins, so that likely explains why he targeted the forward.

At least, that explains it beyond making a trade for the sake of making a trade.

While I’d argue that the Penguins edged the Kings by landing Tanner Pearson for Carl Hagelin, it’s most likely to be a small victory. The difference, on paper, might be even less obvious here, unless a change of scenery truly sparks one or the other. Strome’s possession stats have been better and their production has been comparable over the years. Maybe Spooner could find chemistry with Connor McDavid in a way that would allow Leon Draisaitl to play on his own line? From here, this is a marginal trade, but there’s always a chance it might be a little more fruitful than expected.

If nothing else, it could serve as a wakeup call. That sure beats the Oilers’ unfortunate tradition of trades being a kick in the gut.

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.