The Los Angeles Kings
hope to continue their recent ascent up the Western Conference ladder this week with four big games, including two interstate battles with San Jose and Anaheim.
The Kings, who have lost their last two games but have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10, sit 12th in the West -- but only four points out of a playoff spot. Keep in mind, Los Angeles hasn't made the playoffs since 2002 and would like nothing more than to join the postseason party in April.
"This is the best time I've ever had in coaching, and I got into it in 1982 as an assistant," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "It's a group of young players -- I'm more relaxed and have a good handle on what I want to do and how I want to go about it. You're basically a teacher, and I've got a bunch of great young students right now."
One such player is 24-year-old captain Dustin Brown, who has 21 goals, 42 points and a team-leading 5 game-winners and 222 shots this season. He has 14 points in the last 11 games (7 goals) and multipoint games in four of the last nine.
"I think it's a credit to the way the systems are now," Brown told NHL.com. "I really think the salary cap has given young players more of an opportunity to succeed at a young age. In my first year (2003-04) as an 18-year-old, I remember there were maybe three or four guys my age in the League and, now, there's a handful of them. Players are skilled enough and I guess the rules help a little because it's not as clamped down. Players can skate fast and dangle and that's a good combination."
Following Monday's home clash with the Atlanta Thrashers, the Kings will travel to seventh-seeded Anaheim on Wednesday and top-seeded San Jose on Thursday before returning home Saturday against Phoenix.
"You're making a push to make the playoffs and a win puts you one point back of getting over that threshold and getting into that top group and you have to find a way to do it," Murray said.
Winning Wesley -- Former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Glen Wesley will have his No. 2 sweater retired during a pre-game ceremony on Tuesday prior to the club's meeting against the team that originally drafted him in 1987 -- the Boston Bruins.
Glen Wesley Night, sponsored by Chris Leith Chevrolet, will be hosted by Hurricanes broadcaster John Forslund and will feature video tributes of Wesley's career, a speech by the honored guest and a final skate-around for the longtime Hurricanes defenseman. It will conclude with Wesley and his family helping to raise his No. 2 banner to the RBC Center rafters.
Originally drafted third overall in the draft, Wesley completed his playing career ranked sixth on the NHL's all-time list of games played by a defenseman with 1,457 over 20 seasons with Boston, Hartford, Toronto and Carolina. The Red Deer, Alb. native debuted with Boston straight out of junior hockey in his draft year, and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team after earning 37 points (7 goals) and leading all rookies with a plus-21 rating. Wesley played in the NHL All-Star Game in 1989 and completed his career with 128 goals and 537 points. He appeared in the Stanley Cup Final four times, reaching the championship round with Boston in '88 and '90, and with Carolina in 2002 and '06, when he assisted in the team's first Stanley Cup.
Here comes the Sun-din -- Few will forget the saga that surrounded Mats Sundin and his decision to finally sign a one-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks in December.
In fact, it's almost guaranteed the fans of Toronto were watching with great interest the final destination of their former captain, who posted at least 70 points and played in at least 70 games in each of the last 12 seasons in Toronto.
Just in case they forgot, the big Swede will be back in town on Saturday at Air Canada Centre in his flashy new Canucks jersey -- the first meeting against his former team since his change in allegiance.
Sundin, who has 6 goals and 10 points in 14 games this season, has scored 561 goals and added 776 assists in his 17-plus NHL seasons. He also has 74 points in 83 playoff games.
Super Saturday -- There are 13 games slated on Saturday, highlighted by six divisional showdowns of significance, particularly since the Conference races appear to be getting tighter as we head down the home stretch. Here's a quick look at each of those matchups.
Penguins at Flyers -- This will no doubt be a critical one for each club as the Eastern Conference playoff race heats up. Philadelphia holds a 131-74-32-3 all-time mark against the Pens, including an 89-21-8-2 mark on home ice. Joffrey Lupul averages over a point per game in his career against Pittsburgh with eight goals and 13 points in 12 games while Simon Gagne leads the Flyers with 38 points (18 goals) through 45 career games against the Pens. For Pittsburgh, captain Sidney Crosby has 41 points (18 goals) in 24 games against the Flyers and linemate Evgeni Malkin has 28 points (12 goals) in 19 games.
Devils at Islanders -- The matchup will be the fifth of six between the teams this season with the Devils winning all four previous meetings while outscoring the Isles, 14-6. Devils sniper Zach Parise leads the club in scoring against the Isles with 4 goals and 10 points in the previous four contests. The Islanders lead the all-time series 75-66-20, including a 61-24-13 mark in Uniondale.
Senators at Canadiens -- Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson and Montreal's Alex Kovalev have each dominated in this series. The Canadiens are 3-0-0 against the Sens in three previous matchups this season, including consecutive victories via shootout. Kovalev leads the Habs in goals (19), assists (35) and points (54) in 64 career games against Ottawa. Meanwhile, Alfredsson leads the Sens in goals (26), assists (62) and points (88) in 67 career matchups against Montreal.
Predators at Blues -- The contest marks the third meeting in 10 days, including the back end of a home-and-home. The Predators notched their first victory over St. Louis on Feb. 12 -- a 4-3 shootout decision -- and now trail the season series, 1-2-1. St. Louis wing Keith Tkachuk has 39 points and 16 goals in 44 career games against Nashville and Andy McDonald has 24 points and 19 assists in 27 games. The Blues hold a 28-21-12 advantage in the all-time series. Keep in mind, the Predators and Blues have gone to either overtime or a shootout 16 times.
Flames at Oilers -- The game is the fourth of six meetings and also the first time since Dec. 31 that the teams will collide. Edmonton leads the seasonal series 2-1-0, notching back-to-back wins back on Oct. 17-18 before suffering a 6-4 setback in Calgary on New Year's Eve. The Flames, who snapped a season-high three-game losing streak on Saturday with a triumph over Phoenix, are currently third in the West with 71 points. Edmonton is eighth with 60 points.
Coyotes at Kings -- Phoenix travels to Los Angeles for the fourth of six between the clubs with the Coyotes holding a 2-1-0 lead this season. Phoenix captain Shane Doan leads the team in scoring against the Kings this year with 2 goals and 3 points in 3 games and also leads all current Coyotes in career scoring against the Kings with 22 goals and 56 points in 67 games. Despite its 65-83-29 all-time record against Phoenix, Los Angeles scored a 4-0 victory in the most recent meeting on Dec. 27 as rookie goalie Jonathan Quick made 26 saves. In that game, Phoenix finished 0-for-9 on power play, including a pair of 5-on-3 opportunities while the Kings went 2-for-6 with the man advantage.
NBC Game of the Week -- Don't expect any repeat of the NHL SuperSkills Fan Fav Breakaway Shootout event on Sunday when fellow countrymen Alex Ovechkin of Washington and Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh share the ice once again in the NBC Game of the Week at the Verizon Center.
It's back to work for both Russian standouts. Malkin (81 points) and Ovechkin (70 points) rank No. 1 and 3, respectively, in League scoring and, for good measure, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby (72 points) is No. 2. Still, despite the Pens' offensive prowess, the club remains five points from a Stanley Cup playoff berth.
The Penguins are 86-77-16 all-time against Washington and are 7-3-0 in their last 10 matches. The Caps are 11-1-3 against teams in the Atlantic and the Pens are 6-5-0 against those clubs in the Southeast.
Pierre McGuire, NBC's inside-the-glass reporter, is a big fan of Ovechkin's.
"He's the best player in the world," McGuire said. "You have to go all the way back to 'Rocket' Richard to find a player like him."
Rangers retirees -- Less than a month after honoring Adam Graves on Feb. 3, the Rangers will send two more banners to the rafters at Madison Square Garden on Sunday when the organization retires the jerseys of forward Andy Bathgate (No. 9) and defenseman Harry Howell (No. 3) prior to their game with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Rangers history is enriched by players like Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell, who laid the foundation for what a Rangers player should be," said Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather. "They will now take their rightful place in The Garden rafters alongside those players who have carried their tradition throughout the years."
Bathgate, who played 12 seasons with the New York Rangers from 1952-53 to 1963-64, became the first Rangers player to register 40 goals in one season (1958-59) and ranks fourth in career goals (272), assists (457) and points (729). Howell, who played 17 seasons with the Rangers from 1952-53 to 1968-69, holds the franchise record with 1,160 games played -- missing only 40 regular-season games during his tenure in New York. Howell also ranks fifth in Rangers history in assists (263) and points (345) by a defenseman.
Air time -- The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will again air Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).
NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on NHL.com via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.
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