The Los Angeles Kings are mired in their longest losing streak of the season and struggling to score goals. The identity of their next opponent may make things look a whole lot brighter.
The Kings will try to continue their mastery of the Edmonton Oilers when the Pacific Division rivals face off Thursday night in Los Angeles in the first of five meetings this season.
Last season, the Kings outscored the Oilers 20-12 while completing the first season series sweep of at least five games in franchise history. Additionally, Los Angeles has won nine in a row at Staples Center over Edmonton by a 36-13 margin, and the Kings are 16-1-2 in the past 19 matchups overall.
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All that is great for a Kings team that needs some positive news. After kicking off a five-game road trip with a 7-0 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 8, Los Angeles (7-9-1) has managed a total of five goals while losing four in a row, including a 4-1 setback to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.
Though the Kings have played just 17 games, reigning Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty said the team must have a different mindset.
“We need to play more desperate,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “When you're losing games, it's not fun. … It's not fun coming to the rink sometimes. We've got to be more desperate and treat every single game as if it's a playoff game or a division game and that's how we're going to get back on track.”
Doughty had only three assists in five games versus the Oilers last season. Los Angeles was paced by Tyler Toffoli (three goals, five assists in five games) and Jeff Carter (four goals, three assists in four games).
Carter is the Kings' leader with five goals and 11 points so far in 2016-17.
Los Angeles continues to deal with injuries to key players including goaltender Jonathan Quick (lower body), Marian Gaborik (foot) and center Anze Kopitar (upper body). Quick is out until January, but Gaborik could be back next week and Kopitar remains day-to-day after being injured Friday against the Ottawa Senators.
“It definitely helps out to be out there on the ice, and just, you know, be on the ice and have the feel and all of that,” Kopitar told LAKingsInsider.com on Wednesday. “Again, 'day-to-day,' skate again (Thursday), see what happens and we'll go from there.”
Despite their struggles, the Kings are fourth in the Pacific, four points behind the Oilers, who are tied with the Anaheim Ducks for first thanks in part to a 5-3-1 road record.
“These are tough games to play in Anaheim, L.A., San Jose, Dallas, they always have been,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan told the Edmonton Sun prior to a three-game road trip that started Tuesday with a 4-1 loss to the Ducks and concludes Saturday against the Stars.
McLellan went on to say Edmonton has showed some improvement, but now it is time to ratchet up the results.
“We want to take that a step further and come up with some wins,” he told the Sun. “However the game is played, I think we're equipped to play it, but individuals have to pick up their play.”
Not dealing with an early deficit would help, too. The Oilers (9-7-1) have dropped a season-high four straight, but more alarming is they have surrendered the opening goal in each of their last six. Edmonton has fallen behind in the first 1:57 in four of those contests and trailed within the opening 28 seconds in two.
The Oilers are 4-6-1 when opponents score first.
“It becomes a mental thing, but there's two different types of play … one where (you're) not prepared mentally at the start of games, then when the other team scores, you think and reflect on that and you lose the next five minutes, too,” McLellan told the Edmonton Journal.
Cam Talbot was 0-4-0 with a 3.56 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage against the Kings last season, and he has surrendered 24 goals in his past seven games overall, posting a 1-5-1 record. Jonas Gustavsson could make his first appearance since Nov. 6, when he recorded 22 saves in 2-1 road win over the Detroit Red Wings.
In his only game in Los Angeles while with Detroit, Gustavsson allowed an early goal as the Red Wings fell 1-0 on Feb. 24, 2015.
Oilers left winger Milan Lucic is scheduled to meet his former club for the first time. While with the Kings last season, Lucic had a goal, four assists and a team-high 10 penalty minutes vs. Edmonton.
He signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with the Oilers in July, and he has five goals and four assists in 17 games.