PREVIEW: LA Kings, on 5-1 hot streak, face Lightning (4p, FOX Sports West)
The Tampa Bay Lightning still have the best record in hockey, but they’ll have their hands full on Saturday night against a Los Angeles Kings team that comes in on Saturday with their share of momentum.
The Kings (30-19-5) play the tail end of a back-to-back after pulling out a 3-1 win at the Florida Panthers, rallying from an early deficit. Los Angeles has now won three straight and is 5-1 in its last six games, keeping them in a logjam in the Western Conference standings.
Los Angeles enters Saturday’s game in second place in the Pacific Division, but at the same time, three teams are within a point of the Kings, where a single win from each could put them on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Tampa Bay got a 5-2 win on the road in November in the first meeting between the two teams, getting four goals in the first period.
The two teams’ strengths match up nicely — the Lightning remain the league’s No. 1 scoring team at 3.6 goals per game, while the Kings have the league’s No. 1 defense, allowing just 2.4 goals per game. Tampa Bay has a potent power play, converting the third-best percentage in the league at 24 percent, but Los Angeles answers with the league’s toughest penalty kill unit, stopping 85 percent of opposing power plays.
Leading that defense is goalie Jonathan Quick, who had 35 saves in Friday’s win at Florida, shutting the Panthers out after a first-period goal.
“I thought he was a calming force for us,” coach John Stevens said of Quick’s game Friday night. “He looked really solid and comfortable in the net. He gave us a lot of confidence by him playing that way.”
Los Angeles has an elite scorer in center Anze Kopitar — 21 goals and 36 assists to easily lead the Kings in scoring. But Tampa Bay has Nikita Kucherov, who broke a 12-game goal-less drought with his 28th in Thursday’s win against Vancouver — he leads the league with 68 total points, with Steven Stamkos close behind with 20 goals and 62 total points.
The Lightning’s scoring depth remains an underappreciated asset — rookie Yanni Gourde picked up his 20th goal Thursday, to go with 20 assists in giving Tampa Bay yet another 40-point scorer already this season.
“Twenty goals by a rookie — twenty goals is a heck of a year by anybody, let alone when you’re in your first year in the league,” coach Jon Cooper said.
The Lightning will retire the No. 4 jersey of Vincent Lecavalier, who remains the team’s all-time career leader in goals (383) and games played (1,037) after spending 14 seasons with Tampa Bay from 1998-2013. He finished his NHL career with a single season in Los Angeles in 2015-16. Tampa Bay just returned home Thursday from an eight-game road trip in which they went 5-3, building momentum with their 5-2 win against Vancouver in Thursday’s first game back at Amalie Arena.