Blue Jackets-Kings Preview
Halfway through a season that has been full of difficult moments, the Los Angeles Kings like where they are at the moment.
The Kings will continue a six-game homestand Saturday when they look to defeat the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets for the fifth straight meeting.
Los Angeles (20-14-7) is within the Western Conference's top eight despite averaging a league-worst 2.07 goals. The Kings fired Terry Murray on Dec. 12, but are 5-0-3 since Darryl Sutter made his debut as coach Dec. 22.
Sutter believes that Los Angeles is in good shape heading into the second half of the campaign after Thursday's 1-0 overtime victory over Phoenix on Drew Doughty's goal.
"The real math is that tonight was game 41 and that means halfway," Sutter said. "You can sort of see what the numbers would be to be a playoff team based on if that holds true. Whoever is in eighth tonight, whatever that is and what the next number is going to be, so it has to be your goal."
While goals have been hard to come by, the Kings have killed off 28 consecutive power plays - 22 since Sutter has taken over. Their penalty kill is second in the NHL at 88.5 percent, with opponents going 3 for 76 with the man advantage over the last 21 games.
A key to the penalty kill has been the play of Jonathan Quick, 5-0-2 with a 1.10 goals-against average under Sutter. Quick notched his second shutout in that span with 22 saves Friday, and he's given up two goals over his last four starts.
"It doesn't matter how we do it, as long as we are getting two points and we continue to climb the standings," Quick said. "That's what we are trying to do here."
Quick is 6-1-0 with a 2.12 GAA in his last seven starts against Columbus (10-24-5). He made 24 saves and Los Angeles got third-period goals from Davis Drewiske and Dustin Brown to earn its first win without Murray, 2-1 against the Blue Jackets on Dec. 15.
That defeat marked the start of a 1-7-1 stretch for the Blue Jackets, who opened a four-game trip with Thursday's 2-1 loss at San Jose. Columbus was outshot 39-24.
The Blue Jackets failed to create a power-play opportunity for the first time since March 19. They were forced to try and kill off five penalties, allowing Ryane Clowe's tying power-play goal in a first period in which rookie center Ryan Johansen was assessed with six minutes of penalties.
"We didn't want them to get going on the power play early in the game and we played a real solid first 10 minutes and we got the lead,'' coach Scott Arniel said. "Then we got hit by 6 minutes of penalties. It really gave them life and jump-started them. They had a lot of opportunities there on the power play.''
Columbus lost center Mark Letestu to a broken hand in the third period. Center Ryan Russell is expected to make his NHL debut Saturday after being added on emergency recall from Springfield of the AHL.