Strolling out of the All-Star break with their most lopsided victory of the season and second shutout of 2022-23, the Kings may require another comprehensive effort when they welcome one of the top offensive clubs in the NHL Monday, the Buffalo Sabres.
As was the case with Saturday’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Kings will have a chance to avenge a humiliating loss from earlier in the season. They dropped a game 6-1 in Pittsburgh on their first road trip of the season. In early December, the Kings were torpedoed in the third period of a 6-0 loss in which the host Sabres slathered on all six goals in the final frame and five of them in less than 10 minutes.
McLellan liked the way his group adjusted to Pittsburgh at second sight, but also acknowledged that his club “knew how good of a team” Buffalo was, though the Sabres are currently outside the playoff picture.
With an extended rest behind them, the Kings, who remain among four teams separated by a solitary point atop the Pacific Division, will now start kicking into the stretch. They’ve grasped the magnified importance of each game in an airtight divisional race.
“We’re down to 28 now, and 28 games goes by very quick,” McLellan said. “It’s going to go fast, it’s going to be critical that we perform at our best every night and even some nights that won’t be good enough to get wins, but we have to be pushing that way.”
Wingers Arthur Kaliyev and Trevor Moore returned in Saturday’s 6-0 win over the Penguins. Forward Gabe Vilardi also made additional strides toward rejoining the lineup, though he should be considered doubtful for Monday.
When healthy, the Kings have two potent power-play units, three quality scoring lines and a fourth line with above-average punch as well this season.
“When we’re healthy, I think we have four lines that can play against any line in the league, and I think that’s a great thing to have,” said forward Adrian Kempe, who scored four goals Saturday. “Throughout last year and this year, we don’t always have a guy that scores 100 points, but I think we have pretty even [scoring balance].”
Pheonix Copley earned a one-year contract extension earlier Friday and his first shutout of the season Saturday. He seems likely to get the nod in net against Buffalo.
DUSTIN BROWN REFLECTS
About 150 miles from the Sabres’ home arena, former Kings captain Dustin Brown grew up, in Ithaca, N.Y., near Cornell University. Brown was honored by the Kings Saturday in a ceremony unlike any other the team had ever organized for a former player.
Brown said he was perplexed by his new environs 20 years ago when he first arrived in Southern California, not associating sun-soaked palm trees with a sport born in wintry weather. But he gradually came to exchange love with a fan base that went from niche to noticeable as the team’s fortunes improved.
“With what we built, and what we accomplished, it just exploded. Now you have young and old [fans],” Brown said.
Brown added that the balance between prominence and normalcy that more traditional hockey markets could not offer also appealed to him.
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“This is a town of celebrities, but not hockey celebrities, so it was great for my personality and how I kind of operate,” he said.
With apologies to the late Rick James, Buffalo is not known as a town of celebrities, but the Sabres have gained notoriety as they’ve tied for the second most goals per game in the NHL this season.
Center Tage Thompson and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin were both named as All-Stars and have been at once prolific and consistent this season. Thompson missed the All-Star festivities due an injury, but scored a goal in his return Saturday, a 7-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.
Defenseman Owen Power, the No. 1 overall pick in 2021, has skated in his first pro season. He pieced together a four-game point streak shortly before the All-Star break.
Buffalo boasts a top-five power play but has been burdened by a bottom-five penalty kill. The Sabres have used three goalies, most frequently Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, yet none with consistently favorable results.
Buffalo at Kings
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV/radio: Bally Sports West/iHeart Radio