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    Kings seek to build some momentum with trip to Arizona
    • October 26, 2023

    Seeking consecutive victories for the second time this season, the Kings could even bring their string to three straight with a pair of opportunities on Friday and Saturday.

    Already having familiarized themselves with the Arizona Coyotes in Tuesday’s 6-3 home victory, the Kings will confront them again. This time, they’ll meet in Tempe at the NHL’s smallest venue Friday before the Kings welcome its biggest team, the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights, to Arena on Saturday.

    The Kings have leaned hard on their offense this season to get victories or even a point in the standings. They’ve scored 18 times in their three wins and added five more goals in their shootout loss to Carolina. At the opposite end of the ice, they’ve allowed two or fewer goals just once this season, which has raised a familiar question: will the Kings be trading their hockey skates for track spikes?

    “We won 5-1 in Winnipeg. We’re capable of doing it. I don’t think that we’re going to score five or six goals every night, I don’t,” Coach Todd McLellan said. “Against Boston, we saw that we couldn’t or didn’t, so there are going to have to be 2-1 and 1-0 wins at some point. But we’re still trying to figure our game out and we’ll take the offense to support the mistakes we’re making and try to put wins in the column.”

    One area that has improved markedly thus far for the Kings has been their penalty kill, which has operated at an 87% clip, the eighth-best mark in NHL. That unit surrendered a goal to Arizona’s power play Tuesday, but only after the visitors engineered a high-danger chance with a goal probability of over 60% that whizzed past Pheonix Copley. It was also Arizona’s three top scorers – Logan Cooley and Nick Schmaltz set up Clayton Keller – that connected for the goal.

    “We’ve had some breakdowns but when you make changes that’s kind of to be expected. We’re ironing those out. From my perspective, we do give a little bit different looks than the [previous] PK, so it’s adjusting to that,” Copley said. “But so far we’re not really giving up a whole lot of looks or a lot of chances on our PK, so that’s a credit to the guys.”

    McLellan had been critical of his team’s net-front coverage and intensity, though he said Tuesday that he saw improvements not only in terms of defending but also in creating traffic at the opposing goalmouth. Though slot and corner coverage plagued the Kings at times Tuesday, McLellan said he felt their net play had come forward, and Copley said the group was also attuned to continually improving in those areas.

    “That’s all of us, myself included with rebounds, clearing rebounds and bearing down, all of us, need to bear down in those areas,” Copley said.

    Even as the penalty kill evolved and five-on-five defense remained somewhat inconsistent, the Kings continued to present a near-constant threat with the puck, and through a balanced attack. On Tuesday, four skaters turned in multipoint nights, five defensemen contributed assists and six forwards lit the lamp. Although Kevin Fiala’s first goal was workmanlike and both leading sniper Adrian Kempe’s tallies this season have gone into an empty net, the Kings got two goals from their fourth line Tuesday and have gotten five from middle-six utility man Trevor Moore to date.

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    Moore had six of his 10 tallies last season in the first month and a half of the campaign, and he finished the prior year on a tear, notching 14 of his 17 goals after the turn of the calendar. A slow start in his first season skating beside Phillip Danault and injuries in his second limited Moore’s totals, but did not diminish his ability, McLellan said.

    “If he would have been able to stay healthy last year, he was having a pretty darn good year. I think Christmas rolled around and then, from there, he chased it,” McLellan said.

    The Coyotes are having a better year and “darn good” might be an understatement when it comes to Vegas. They won the Stanley Cup last season and started this campaign with seven straight victories. In addition to high-end talent and formidable depth, the Golden Knights are also the heaviest team in the league by the average weight of their players.

    The Kings were focused tightly on strengthening the center position this offseason with their pursuit of Pierre-Luc Dubois, and it’s easy to see why. Vegas’ top three scorers are its top three pivots: Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson.

    ​ Orange County Register