The Kings will conclude their traversal of the New York metro area with a visit to Madison Square Garden, where they’ll take on the Rangers on Sunday in what will be a matinee for fans on the West Coast.
It’ll be the Kings’ fourth game in six days, and a back-to-back closer for the Rangers, who lost Saturday.
Thus far, the Kings have split their road trip, earning three of four points against the Devils and Islanders and three of six overall. They mounted leads in each of their two most recent games, building 2-0 and 3-2 advantages before falling 4-3 in overtime at New Jersey and protecting a 3-0 margin in a 3-2 win that was only tight thanks to a fluky goal by Isles defenseman Adam Pelech.
During their most recent homestand, the Kings had also seen some edges evaporate, most notably a 5-1 advantage that turned into a 6-5 squeaker that they won in a shootout against Arizona.
“Enough is enough, it’s at that point. We’re all good players here, we all can play defense and we’ve got to learn how to keep playing with the lead and we played a little better tonight,” said center Phillip Danault, who opened the scoring Friday.
Coach Todd McLellan, who also said the loss in New Jersey was distinct from the Kings’ courting disaster against Arizona, said that although his club ended up playing in a one-goal game after holding a firm upper hand, he felt the details of its game were solid.
“They scored their second off [a skate], nothing we can do in that situation, but I was most impressed with what happened after that,” McLellan said. “We stayed calm, we checked very well, we blocked shots, won faceoffs, got the clears when we needed to, got off the ice when we needed to and got fresh guys out. We played like a team that can win in those situations.”
Friday’s victory was also the third in three decisions for Jonathan Quick, and the 370th of his career. A resurgence from Quick, who had gone some 10 weeks without a win and lost his starting gig to Pheonix Copley, would be a welcome development for the Kings. He buoyed the Kings down the stretch last year on a narrow path to the playoffs. A Connecticut native and childhood fan of the Rangers as well as their goalie Mike Richter, Quick has often relished trips to the Garden, including in 2014 when he and the Kings beat the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.
To come nearer to returning to that level of competition, McLellan and his group have been emphasizing focus and consistency in attempting to re-establish themselves as one of the premiere shutdown teams in the NHL. Overall, their points percentage when scoring first has risen from .763 to .781. Their record when leading at the first intermission is almost identical (one more win and one more loss this season) to last season’s and their points percentage when leading through two periods has improved from .865 to .885.
Yet the Kings are no longer focused on an 82-game formula, and instead are looking ahead to the playoffs. Fending off hapless clubs like the Ducks, flawed teams like the Coyotes or underpowered clubs without their best scorer like the Islanders without Mathew Barzal is one thing. The class of the Western Conference is quite another.
“It’s tight and it’s gonna be tight from here on out,” center Anze Kopitar said after the overtime loss in Newark. “It’ll be tight games and one-goal games for the most part, so we have to figure out how to win these.”
The Rangers are also focused on the postseason, aggressively seeking to add to a core that includes former Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin and Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox.
They already made an ambitious trade with St. Louis for veteran sniper Vladimir Tarasenko. They remain among the favorites to land the services of another big-name, 30-something right winger. Patrick Kane has been debating whether to waive his no-movement clause, but is currently being held out of action by the Chicago Blackhawks. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported there was “mutual interest” between Kane and the Rangers, who could snag the three-time Stanley Cup winner before the March 3 trade deadline.
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Tarasenko has posted four points in eight games with his new franchise, and overall the Rangers have maintained a full or nearly full complement of players. Defenseman Ryan Lindgren (upper body) sustained an apparent shoulder injury following a check near the boards from Washington forward T.J. Oshie, who had a Gordie Howe hat trick in the Capitals’ 6-3 win over the Rangers. While the Rangers will miss Lindgren’s presence, his absence could have a silver lining. If he ends up on long-term injured reserve, the Rangers would have increased flexibility at the trade deadline to facilitate a deal for Kane or another acquisition.
Kings at New York Rangers
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Madison Square Garden
TV/Radio: Bally Sports West/iHeart Radio