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    Kings host the Flyers looking to reclaim home ice
    • November 11, 2023

    The Kings completed four days of a road trip while sleeping in their own beds recently and Saturday they’ll have traversed the state of Pennsylvania, hockey-wise at least, without having to have left downtown L.A.

    After wrapping up their away swing with the extensive comforts of home and a quick jaunt to Vegas to pillage the Golden Knights’ village Wednesday, the Kings stumbled in overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins at home Thursday.

    Saturday, the Kings will face the Pens’ rivals from the southeastern corner of their state, the Philadelphia Flyers, in the second and final meeting of the season between these Expansion Six foes.

    While the Kings’ balanced contributions on offense have been persistent throughout much of the campaign, their top line has gotten its play cranking of late. Captain Anze Kopitar and emergent force Quinton Byfield have matching five-game point streaks over which they’ve racked up six and eight points, respectively. Adrian Kempe, who like Byfield was a first-round pick as a center whose consistency was lacking until he made a full-time move to wing, is on an eight-game rampage over which he has oozed offense. He has burst forth with 12 points to put a tepid start to the season behind him.

    “The confidence is there. I know I can do it, so I don’t try to think about it too much, it’s just coming naturally, I guess. Playing with good players helps me, too,” said Kempe, who seared a shot high to the short side authoritatively for a goal off the rush Thursday.

    Some might view the reification of Kempe and Byfield’s promise as feathers in the caps of the Kings’ coaching, training and player development personnel. However Coach Todd McLellan said that while they were “good stories organizationally,” the credit belonged to the players themselves.

    “They both matured within different timeframes. They’re both confident now,” McLellan said. “(Kempe) was drafted as a center as well, and now [like Byfield] he’s on the wing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And they have a pretty good center iceman right now that stabilizes things.”

    The Kings will coast into Saturday’s match on an eight-game points streak across which they’ve gone 6-0-2 with overtime defeats at the hands of Pittsburgh and also Vegas back on Oct. 28. The Flyers fell to the Kings 5-0 in their first meeting in Philly, when goalie Cal Petersen was cracked open like the Liberty Bell by his former cohorts. It’s a slight mystery whom the Kings will face Saturday given some last-second shuffling in net for the Flyers on Friday, but any clear signs point to Petersen.

    Philadelphia faced the Ducks on Friday and had planned to start its first option Carter Hart, freshly recovered from a minor back injury, before likely turning to Samuel Ersson against the Kings. But Hart is now dealing with a new malady, an undisclosed illness, thrusting Ersson into duty against the Ducks and prompting the urgent recall of Petersen. All present indicators would point to another serendipitous showdown between the Kings and Petersen, who has toiled in the minors this season exclusively apart from last month’s initial match against the Kings.

    Sean Walker, who played five seasons on defense for the Kings, will also don orange Saturday, as an integral part of the Flyers’ second pairing. Flyers coach John Tortorella has leaned more heavily on Walker, a player with whom he wasn’t especially familiar when the Flyers acquired him via the same trade that added Petersen this summer, than expected because of injuries to Rasmus Ristolainen and Marc Staal.

    Walker, he said, has offered a pleasant revelation, giving Philly a competitor who can play in all situations and bring staunch competitiveness to the ice.

    “He’s willing to take a chance and play aggressively and it’s rubbed off on people,” Tortorella said.

    “Just the way he plays in areas, in certain [moments] of games,” he added. “I think he’s very hard on himself. He wants to be good every shift, you can see that when he comes to the bench. That’s an intangible that I like looking at with players. [With Walker], it’s always there.”

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    Walker and Petersen will return to the only home arena they ever knew until this year, where the Kings have just one victory this season. That’s one fewer than the league’s worst team overall, the San Jose Sharks, but a perfect road record and a locked-in lineup counterbalanced that lack of success at home, which has come with some mitigating factors and identifiable mistakes, McLellan remarked.

    “I don’t put a lot of credence into the home-and-road thing yet, no,” McLellan said.

    Philadelphia at Kings

    When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

    Where: Arena

    How to watch: Bally Sports West

    ​ Orange County Register