LOS ANGELES — The surprising Ottawa Senators continue their California road trip when they visit the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday afternoon.
The Senators missed the Eastern Conference playoffs by 11 points last season and hopes were not high as they entered this campaign with one of the most porous defenses in the league. With a renewed focus on defense by coach Guy Boucher and strong goaltending from the duo of Craig Anderson and Mike Condon, they are in the mix in the early-season Atlantic Division race.
Ottawa (16-9-2) comes off a 4-2 victory in San Jose on Wednesday despite getting outshot 37-17. The Senators used a big effort from Condon (4-1-1, 1.77 GAA and .943 save percentage) and effective penalty killing to improve their road record to 7-4-0, a significantly better pace than last season's 17-21-3 mark away from Canadian Tire Centre.
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“We got a great start and although it seemed like we spent the last half of the game in the penalty box, I liked the last 10 minutes of our game,” Boucher said. “We finally get two days off between games after playing such a long stretch of games every other game. I am excited to see how we do with the additional rest.”
One Senator will achieve a career milestone when Chris Neil suits up for his 1,000th NHL game, a rare feat given that in the age of free agency, Neil has spent his entire career with the Senators. Given his rugged style, players rarely have the longevity to play 15 seasons and with the game continuing to evolving to more speed and skill, it's unlikely that a player of Neil's skillset will ever meet this mark again.
“Good things happen when you work hard in life,” Neil said prior to his historic achievement. “I've approached every training camp like I need to earn a spot on the team. I don't take anything for granted.”
Los Angeles (13-11-2) comes into the contest on the heels on a poor performance in a 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. The consensus after a lethargic effort was that the additional time off the team has had over the past few weeks has dulled their recent efforts.
“We had a bad start,” Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “There should be no excuses, we have to be better prepared mentally to play.”
The Kings will try to gain a split of the two-game season series, dropping a last-minute 2-1 decision in Ottawa on Nov. 11 as they complete a stretch of eight home games in their last 10 contests. It is their last opportunity to play in front of their home fans until Dec. 31.
After a strong start to their home campaign, Los Angeles has lost three straight at home, two in regulation and one via shootout – so grabbing two points in their final home game ahead of a daunting road schedule is important. The Kings' road record is 4-7-1 and with the Western Conference playoff race looking to be more contentious than last season, Los Angeles will need to play close to .500 hockey on the road to be in the mix.
Los Angeles may be looking at other options to strengthen its goaltending as Jeff Zatkoff dropped to 1-4-0 in the Carolina loss. The Kings have managed to win games in the absence of Jonathan Quick, who was sidelined with a serious groin injury after just playing one period in the season opener in San Jose.
Zatkoff was slated to be the primary goaltender during Quick's absence but he was sidelined with a groin injury that has limited his appearances.
While third-string netminder Peter Budaj has given a solid performance and at one point played in 22 consecutive games, the team's .899 save percentage ties with St. Louis for 27th place after being a in the top 10 last season. Speculation is rising that Zatkoff will have to perform well on this road trip in order to maintain his roster spot.