Jets-Kings could yield lots of goals (Jan 14, 2017)
LOS ANGELES -- The Winnipeg Jets visit the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday at Staples Center in a game that could produce plenty of scoring.
Both teams are creating offense in 2017. The Jets are second in the NHL with an average of 3.7 goals per game in January, and the Kings have scored 13 goals in their last three games.
The Jets (20-22-3) are playing the second of back-to-back games against Pacific Division opponents. They dropped their second straight game, a 4-3 decision to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday after yielding four first-period goals.
Starting goaltender Connor Hellebuck was relieved for the second straight game after surrendering three goals on six shots in just 10:16.
As the pressure increases around the team and coach Paul Maurice, their play was so disappointing against the Pacific cellar dwellers that a closed door, 15-minute "players only" meeting was held immediately after the game. The coach had no problem with the postgame discussion without his presence.
"We never quit, but we need to be better in all the smaller pieces of the game," Maurice said. "It's important that the team had that conversation after the game among themselves."
Wheeler would not disclose what was said in the players' meeting, but his tone spoke volumes about the atmosphere in the room.
"What do you think, that we were just silent in here with the door shut," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "Obviously, there's a conversation between us, I'm not going to give anything that was said."
Winnipeg won their first matchup, a 3-2 shootout win Nov. 13 with Mark Scheifele scoring the deciding goal.
Despite the Friday loss, the Jets' recent solid play on the road has kept them in the race for a playoff spot, winning four of their last six away from MTS Centre.
Winnipeg is seeking their fourth straight victory against Los Angeles dating to last season.
Nikolaj Ehlers is on a seven-game, nine-point point streak (five goals and four assists), but they miss the presence of high scoring rookie Patrik Laine (21 goals, 16 assists), who did not accompany the team on the trip because of an upper-body injury.
The Kings (21-17-4) come off their most complete performance of the season, a 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. Los Angeles limited St. Louis to eight shots in the first two periods and drove Jake Allen from the Blues net after 35 minutes.
Tanner Pearson and Jake Muzzin led the way with two goals each as Pearson appears to be on the way to a career-best season for goals scored.
Pearson is the lone King to register double digits in goals other than All-Star Jeff Carter (22 goals). Pearson's 13 goals put him in a position to easily eclipse his career high of 15 set last season.
Pearson has scored six goals in his last eight games filling the void creating when high-scoring linemate Tyler Toffoli was sidelined with a lower-body injury.
"We are a good rush team, and if that first shot doesn't go in, someone else is going to the net and a good chance to get the second chance going," Pearson said. "We just need to keep this momentum into the game against Winnipeg."
For the Kings to have a chance for a deep playoff run, they will need better production from their established stars like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, both significantly off last season's offensive numbers.
Though Kopitar has registered five points in his last five games, his season totals of four goals and 17 assists are far behind the normal output. Doughty is off the pace of last season that earned him the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's best all-around defenseman.
The Kings hope the recent uptick in offense will quell trade speculation that has circled the team the past few weeks. The overall lack of offense -- only Arizona and the Colorado Avalanche have scored less -- has them sitting outside their usual top three standing in the Pacific Division.
Rumors of a potential trade with the Avalanche has been fueled by the continued presence of Colorado's scouting staff in Los Angeles over the past week. While the Kings' preference is not to move one of their established defenseman, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez, if the offense falters, general manager Dean Lombardi might have no choice to swing a deal to keep his team in contention.