A pair of teams with hopes they might be ready to turn a corner will meet Tuesday when the Los Angeles Kings travel to Minnesota to face a Wild team in need of a little defensive fine tuning.
After a 7-4 loss Monday at Philadelphia that dropped them to 4-3-0 in 2019, the Wild now will turn around and face a Kings team that thought their time had finally arrived at the tail end of December. The start of January has not been so kind, however.
The Kings are just 2-4-0 since New Year's Day, but they are starting a three-game road trip coming off a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday where, after trailing less than six minutes into the game, they took in the second period and finished off a team that had won 10 of its last 11 and was on a six-game road win streak.
Behind a solid performance from goaltender Jonathan Quick, who missed time earlier this season after surgery on a torn meniscus, the Kings gave flashes Saturday of their late December play. They closed the calendar year with five victories in six games, with three of those victories coming in overtime.
Quick made 38 saves against the Penguins while earning his 301st career victory, tying him with Mike Richter for fourth on the all-time list for a U.S.-born goalie.
"Being back there for us, it's very comforting because he always gives us a chance and that's what you want from your goaltender," the Kings Anze Kopitar said of Quick after the game, according to NHL.com. "To see him get up there in his individual columns, if you will, it's not surprising. He's obviously a great goaltender and I'm sure he's going to keep on climbing."
The Wild will be content on not letting Quick climb that wins list, at least not until he leaves town. But giving up 12 goals in two games, as they have in consecutive defeats to the Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, is not a formula for success.
But like the Kings, Minnesota has a recent quality victory it can point to as evidence that a dominating run could be on the way.
The Wild's 3-2 victory Thursday over the Winnipeg Jets, one of the top teams in the Western Conference, was a display in getting an early jump on things and then packing it in late. The Wild had a 3-0 lead 38 minutes into the game and then played tight defense from there, not taking a shot on goal the entire third period.
Even with the dozen goals they have allowed in two games since Saturday, the Wild still have as many victories this month as they had in all of December when they won just four times in 13 games.
Perhaps one good sign is that the last time they gave up seven goals, on Dec. 7 to the Edmonton Oilers, they came back with seven goals of their own in a victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
"It's up to us to keep (the wins) going," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said, per NHL.com. "We had such a bad six weeks, though, that it can never be something you get satisfied with. It seems like there's so many teams involved in a (playoff) race, and it's not just two or three. It's every night you're looking at eight teams in the Western Conference involved for those spots. So you can't let up at all. It's going to be like this for the rest of the year I think."
Kings center Trevor Lewis is week-to-week with a foot injury, while right wing Jonny Brodzinski is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. Wild center Eric Fehr is day-to-day after a hard neutral-zone check on Jan. 7, while defenseman Matt Dumba is out indefinitely with a ruptured pectoral muscle.
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