Continuing their quest to bank up points in pursuit of just the second division title in franchise history, the Kings will play their second of seven consecutive home games when they usher in the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.
In their past 15 games, the Kings accumulated 11 wins and earned points in 13 contests. Their 11-2-2 stretch has allowed them to jockey atop the standings with Vegas, which has posted a 12-2-2 mark over its past 16 games.
Unlike most of the season, when a reinvigorated power play seemed to provide a goal each night, the Kings have done much of their damage five-on-five of late. They don’t have a goal across three matches and a dozen opportunities with the extra man, with Coach Todd McLellan remarking recently that the power play had let the team down for the first time in recent memory.
The Kings’ success with the man advantage stemmed in part from having enough players to fill out two competent units that, at one point, were interchangeable as the first and second groups. But the Kings have been encumbered a bit by absences. Leading scorer Kevin Fiala sustained a lower-body injury in Colorado Thursday and should be considered highly doubtful against the Islanders. So should defenseman Sean Durzi, who quarterbacked the second unit before sustaining an apparent head injury against Washington last Monday. Winger Arthur Kaliyev, who averages the most power-play goals per game on the Kings this season, has been a healthy scratch for the past three games. He and defenseman Jordan Spence could draw back into the lineup against the Islanders, as McLellan has acknowledged that both have been solid power-play contributors.
“Not necessarily lack of personnel. When you lose people, you should be able to keep it going. Our power play fell off a little bit about five or six games ago, when Kevin and Durz were still in the lineup,” McLellan said. “It is a lack of execution. It’s a little bit slow right now, a little bit more predictable. We’re perhaps looking for something that’s pretty or perfect versus slugging it out.”
While the special teams battle might be won in the trenches, there’s something of a cold war going on between the pipes for the Kings. Pheonix Copley has allowed two goals or fewer in three of his past four starts and also won three of those games. Trade-deadline acquisition Joonas Korpisalo has won both times he got the nod in net, posting a .929 save percentage and giving up just four goals in the process.
Thus far, McLellan has alternated deployments of the two netminders. That hasn’t been a popular strategy come playoff time, although injuries, underperformance and other misfortunes have led to some de facto tandems. The last platoons to make deep runs were Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson for the Minnesota Wild in 2003, who reached the conference finals, and Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2002, who reached the Stanley Cup Final.
So could the Kings utilize both goalies in the postseason?
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“We have to make the playoffs first, and then, secondly, we’ll decide on a game-by-game basis,” McLellan said. “We need two goaltenders. You rarely get through running one, regardless of what happens: injury, fatigue, score, momentum. So you do need two and, if we’re lucky enough to get to that playoff situation, we’ll have two.”
While the Kings, who have designs on the top seed in their division and the best record in the Western Conference, appear likely to qualify for the playoffs, the Islanders are in a bit more precarious position. Entering Monday’s action, they held a three-point lead over the Florida Panthers for the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.
They’ll continue to be without their most threatening offensive force, Mathew Barzal, and another center, defensive-minded Jean-Gabrieal Pageau, against the Kings.
Forward Brock Nelson paces the Isles in scoring with 63 points in 68 games. Only four Islanders regulars are firmly over a point per game, but they’ve excelled defensively and on the penalty kill. Goalie Ilya Sorokin leads the NHL in shutouts and is tied for the third-best save percentage in the league among goalies with 15 or more appearances.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS AT KINGS
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV/Radio: Bally Sports West/iHeart Radio