The Kings have enjoyed nearly two months as the NHL’s hottest team and they’ll have an opportunity to move into first place in their division and conference with a victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
They’re positioned just one point behind Vegas, who will be idle until Sunday when they’ll host the Columbus Blue Jackets. For the Kings, whose .786 points percentage since Jan. 22 is the best in the league, there seem to be plenty of bricks in the wall. That’s been true even with leading scorer Kevin Fiala (lower body) and skilled defenseman Sean Durzi (upper body) on the shelf.
“We’ve done a great job, at the deadline, adding Kevin. We’re a very good team now and we have a lot of confidence in everyone on this team,” said defenseman Drew Doughty, referring to the trades the Kings made over the summer and near the trade deadline.
The Kings have managed to win seven of their past eight games, with their only loss coming in a shootout. They’ve allowed two or fewer goals in each of their past seven matches while pouring in four or more tallies in six of their last eight.
“That’s what you’re aiming for, two goals or less,” Doughty said. “That’s how you win in playoffs, and that’s where we want to get is, obviously, to the playoffs and make a statement and not lose in the first round this year.”
The Kings wrapped up their schedule against the Eastern Conference with wins over the New York Islanders on Tuesday and Columbus on Thursday. They finished 17-11-4 against the East, a respectable mark but well shy of the 23-6-3 record that left them one point shy of the best interconference record in the NHL last season.
“We’re done, and the best part about it is that we don’t have to travel out that way. That can be taxing,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said.
The Kings have banked up points in part because of some favorable scheduling, which they’ve relished after paying the price with a dense docket earlier in the season. They’re in the midst of a stretch that will see them play 10 of 11 games at home, with eight of those opponents being outside the playoff picture.
But they’ve also brought forth a committed team effort, from their top six forwards and top four defensemen to their depth players. On Thursday, fourth-line winger Carl Grundstrom led the way. He kept a play alive in the Columbus zone that led to an assist for him and a goal for the Kings before he displayed an indefatigable motor and the skill to make it pay off on an unassisted goal later in the same period.
“I’ve really been impressed with Grundy. I think he’s been playing great, playing hard. He’s probably the hardest forward to play against (on our team) because he’s so physical and strong,” Doughty said.
Doughty wasn’t the only Kings veteran to take a liking to Grundstrom. Retired winger Dustin Brown, who attended Saturday’s game, said over the summer that Grundstrom was one player he made it a point to talk to on the ride home after being eliminated from last year’s playoffs. He saw some of his own game in the wrecking-ball style Grundstrom played.
“I’ve had a soft spot for Grundy, because he’s Tonka Truck,” Brown said with a smile. “He played really well, I was happy for him. He got put into a spot and he performed how I knew he would.”
McLellan said the path of Grundstrom, 25, to becoming an NHL regular was replete with rigors but that it gave his teammates an appreciation of his dedication.
“He is a popular guy. One, because his journey to where he is right now has been a tough one for him. He’s been persistent, he’s worked hard, he’s endeared himself to his teammates and they really want to see him do well,” McLellan said.
This campaign has not coalesced quite so well for Vancouver, which saw a bizarre, protracted saga lead to a coaching change from former Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau to former Kings winger Rick Tocchet. They also dealt their leading goal-scorer, Bo Horvat, to the Islanders, and went through much of the year without starting goalie Thatcher Demko.
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Though the postseason seems a fanciful dream with a 16-point deficit behind the final wild-card berth, the Canucks have been playing better of late. Demko has won five of seven decisions since returning from injury Feb. 27, a stretch that has seen Vancouver capture six of eight victories overall. Imaginative center Elias Pettersson tops Vancouver in scoring with 85 points in 65 games, while 27-year-old Russian import Andrei Kuzmenko has been a revelation with a team-leading 34 goals. They each have 10 points over their last eight outings.
Vancouver at Kings
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV/Radio: Bally Sports West/iHeart Radio