Kings ride hot start to beat Ducks

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While a loss would have given the Los Angeles Kings a better chance to improve their draft lottery odds, it’s easier to tell a team to tank than to actually endure that tedium and humiliation. Especially when you’re facing a hated, local rival like the Anaheim Ducks.

The Kings broke a three-game losing streak and earned just their second win since Feb. 9 by beating the Ducks 3-2 on Sunday.

Los Angeles stormed out of the gate in this one, scoring all three of their goals during the first period. Dustin Brown and Kyle Clifford scored the first two Kings goals, but it was the eventual game-winner by Carl Grundstrom that feels the most significant.

Grundstrom, 21, now has a goal in each of his first two NHL games. He was a 2016 second-rounder (57th overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and became a part of the Kings’ organization thanks to the Jake Muzzin trade.

As much as Sunday’s game was about holdover names like Jonathan Quick (18 saves), Los Angeles’ rebuild is about successfully pulling off this rebuild, so seeing positive signs from Grundstrom seems like a victory in itself.

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.

Lightning outlast Kings, win ninth straight in shootout

Few contenders heading into Monday’s deadline required little to no tinkering. Well, just one really.

The Tampa Bay Lightning took the ‘if-it-ain’t-broke’ mentality into the day and decided not to mess with their really good thing. The top team in the National Hockey League then went out on Monday night and once again did what it has done pretty much all year: win.

A 4-3 shootout triumph over the Los Angeles Kings was Tampa’s ninth straight, matched a team consecutive win record set in 2016 and helped them become just the fourth team in league history to reach 100 points in 63 games or fewer.

Win No. 48 wasn’t that easy, however.

The Bolts led 2-0 thanks to first-period strikes from Brayden Point — his 36th — and Anthony Cirelli and were cruising until they hit a speed bump in the third period.

Perhaps lulled to sleep by the Kings, Los Angeles scored three unanswered in just under six minutes to take an unexpected 3-2.

Alex Iafallo scored off his shin pad, Jonny Brodzinski tied the game on a one-timer off a turnover from Andrei Vasilevskiy 5:10 later and Austin Wagner scored 46 seconds after that to take a 3-2 lead.

The goal burst came after the Kings owned the possession at a 60/40 split in the period. after being dominated throughout the first two periods.

J.T. Miller tied the game not long after Wagner gave the Kings the lead, scoring off an ugly turnover.

Drew Doughty said earlier in the day that the Kings need to play with pride down the stretch. Los Angeles came into the game riding a seven-game losing streak (0-5-2) and sat in last place in the Western Conference with 52 points.

Their lot in life didn’t change much with Monday’s loss, but taking a point from the Lightning was a good step in the right direction when it comes to closing out the season with their best foot forward.

Vasilevskiy stopped 30 of 33 saves in the game, and perhaps none bigger than the one above late in the third period on Dustin Brown.

Jack Campbell was solid at the other end for the Kings, stopping 31 of 34.


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

WATCH LIVE: Lightning host Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa leads the NHL with 47 wins and 98 points this season. Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 100 points (T-career high, set last year) and a career-high 70 assists. Both the Lightning and Kucherov are on historic paces this season

TB is the first team in NHL history to win at least 47 of its first 62 games of a season. They are looking to win their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy this season. The last team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and win the Stanley Cup was the Blackhawks in 2013, and before that was the Detroit Red Wings in 2008

Kucherov is on pace to hit 92 assists and 132 points this season. The last player with 90-plus assists was Joe Thornton in 2006-07 (92). Kucherov would become the first player with 130+ points since 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux (161 points) and Jaromir Jagr (149 points) both did so. 

The Kings are on a seven-game losing streak (0-5-2) and sit in last place in the Western Conference with 52 points. They are having problems in all areas of the game right now – offense defense, the power play and penalty kill

Simply put, the Kings have struggled to score this year. They rank 30th in the NHL averaging 2.34 goals/game. In a season where around half the league is scoring three or more goals per game, it’s no shock that the Kings sit in the basement of the Western Conference.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at Tampa Bay Lightning
Where: Amalie Arena
When: Monday, Feb. 25, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Lightning stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Ilya KovalchukJeff CarterTyler Toffoli
Brendan LeipsicAdrian Kempe – Jonny Brodzinski
Kyle CliffordTrevor LewisAustin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Dion PhaneufMatt Roy
Paul LaDueSean Walker

Starting goalie: Jack Campbell

LIGHTNING
Ondrej PalatSteven StamkosJ.T. Miller
Tyler JohnsonBrayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliYanni Gourde
Adam ErneCedric Paquette – Mathieu Joseph

Victor HedmanDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnAnton Stralman

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Rick Peckham (play-by-play) and Jim Fox (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones.

Penguins’ Malkin ejected after swinging stick at head of Flyers’ Raffl

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Oh, boy. This is a no-no. And Evgeni Malkin will have to answer for his stick-swinging antics.

The Pittsburgh Penguins forward let his emotions get the best of him and it could cost him more than just the match penalty he received in Monday’s 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Late in the third period with the Penguins leading the game comfortably 3-0, Flyers forward Michael Raffl and Malkin got tangled up in the neutral zone.

Raffl took a swipe at the back of Malkin’s head with his fist. Malkin, displeased with this, swung around, bringing his stick with him up high and grazing Raffl in the head.

Thankfully, Raffl was fine as that could have ended up much, much worse. Sure, the punch to the back of the head wasn’t nice, but trying to Marty McSorely someone is no way to respond to it.

Malkin, who was quickly escorted off the ice, just returned to the lineup on Monday after missing five games with an upper-body injury. The Penguins sorely missed him, going 1-3-1 in his absence.

George Parros and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety came to the conclusion quickly that the play warranted a review. Malkin has never been suspended during his 13-year career but he was fined $5,000 last year for spearing Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown.

“I know it was dirty,” Malkin said after the game, adding that he didn’t think he hit Raffl.

Malkin said he needs to be smarter next time.


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

Muzzin trade should be the beginning of Kings’ teardown

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When the Los Angeles Kings traded defenseman Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday evening they took an important step toward doing something that was probably a year or two overdue — turning the page on their past glory and starting to finally look toward the future.

It’s time. It’s beyond time. Waiting any longer would have put this team in an even deeper hole that would have taken even longer to get out of.

Since winning their second Stanley Cup in 2014 the Kings have been stuck in neutral in the NHL’s worst possible place — the middle ground — somewhere between a contender and a lottery team, desperately trying to squeeze out whatever is left of an aging core by adding more aging pieces to it (Dion Phaneuf, Ilya Kovalchuk, Carl Hagelin, etc).

Yes, they made the playoffs twice since that last championship.

They also managed to win only a single game in those two appearances, losing in five games to a Sharks team that went on to win the Western Conference in 2016, then getting swept by the Vegas Golden Knights a year ago in a series that wasn’t anywhere near as close as the scoreboard. The two teams were playing a different sport for the four games, and while the Kings didn’t give up much, they never even seemed like they were close to scoring or were capable of doing anything to make Marc-Andre Fleury sweat even a little bit.

[Related: Maple Leafs bolster back end, trade for Muzzin]

In between those two emphatic first-round exits were two non-playoff seasons. More than halfway through the 2018-19 season they are tumbling toward another spring that will be spent at home.

Big picture, this has been an alarmingly mediocre team for going on five years now. Since the start of the 2014-15 season the Kings are 17th in regular season wins, which is about as middle of the pack as a team can get.

The only two teams with fewer than the one postseason win the Kings have during that stretch are the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres, and they only reason they have won fewer is because they haven’t actually made the playoffs.

It has become increasingly clear that there is a sizable gap between the Kings roster and the way it plays and the way the rest of the NHL is built. That gap is only widening, and the only way it’s going to get fixed is if management makes the painful decision to take a blowtorch to the roster.

Trading the 29-year-old Muzzin and his remaining contract ($4 million per year through the end of next season) is a start.

It can not be the end, and based on what general manager Rob Blake said after the trade it likely will not be.

“I don’t want to get into specifics of players, but we are actively looking at making moves for the future of the organization, yes,” said Blake, via the Los Angeles Times, when asked about trading more veteran players.

Quite honestly, there probably isn’t a veteran player on the roster that should be untouchable. Given that the only two key unrestricted free agents they have are Hagelin and Nate Thompson it seems reasonable to conclude that big-name, core players are part of those discussions.

The Kings are in a pretty dire situation here where they are not only old (the third oldest team in the league), but they have those players signed to long-term contracts. Looking at their current roster they have nine players already over the age of 30, with six of them age 33 or older. Almost all of those players are signed for at least the next two seasons at pretty sizable salary cap hits.

Kovalchuk, 35, has two years remaining on his current deal that pays him more than $6 million per season. Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown, both in their age 34 seasons, are signed for three more seasons after this one at a combined salary cap hit of more than $11 million per season (though Carter’s contract significantly reduces in terms of actual dollars because it was so front-loaded when it was signed).

All of this is going to make a rebuild even more complicated because they don’t have a ton to trade.

It seems highly unlikely that Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty would ever go anywhere, not only because of their importance to the franchise but also because of their contracts (both of which contain no-move clauses).

Dumping Brown, Phaneuf and probably Kovalchuk would probably require significant amounts of retained salary, or perhaps even giving up something of value to dump what is left of those salaries.

The real value is probably going to be in trading players like Tyler Toffoli and Alec Martinez.

At 26 years old Toffoli is actually one of the “young” players on the Kings’ roster, and even though he is having a down year is still at least capable of being a 20-goal, 45-point winger. He is not a foundational piece or someone you would ever center a rebuild around, but a contender would absolutely find value in him especially at his $4.6 million salary cap hit the next through the end of next season.

Martinez is in a similar position in that he is still very good and has an attractive contract. There is no reason to think he could not fetch the Kings a package similar to what the Kings received from Toronto for Muzzin. Or at least close to it.

Then there is the elephant in the room that is starting goalie Jonathan Quick.

Quick is another one of those cornerstone pieces, along with Kopitar and Doughty, that helped bring two Stanley Cups to Los Angeles, and Kings fans should be forever grateful for that. But he’s also a player whose perceived value has probably almost always exceeded his actual on-ice value. He’s been great at times, and in the brightest spotlight when all eyes were on him. And that matters. But he’s also been just average at a lot of other times, and that matters, too.

The former always overshadowed the latter, and that still may be the case today.

He is 33 years old, has four years remaining on his contract, and given all of that is probably closer to the end of his career than his peak years. Given the potential enormity of this overhaul, it would probably be in their best interest to see if they can find a taker for that contract right now because they’re not going to be in a position to win in the coming seasons.

It might be painful, but it also might be necessary.

The Kings have been mediocre long enough. Now it’s time to take a step or two back because it is the only way they can actually move forward as an organization.

Trading Muzzin, a popular core player that helped win championships and was still signed beyond this season, was a start. It can not be where they stop.

More: PHT Power Rankings: 10 people that will impact the NHL playoff race

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.