Daily News Kings pull into Calgary seeking to regain momentum

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While the field of eight playoff teams in the Western Conference feels all but set, the Kings will need to scrape and claw for seeding in their final 10 games, beginning with a rodeo in Calgary against the rival Flames on Saturday.

It’s one of two remaining meetings between the clubs (the other is on April 11), who have taken turns topping each other this season in the Kings’ 5-3 win on Dec. 23 and Calgary’s 4-2 victory on Feb. 27. The Kings have now slipped into the second and final wild-card position, which presently would signify a matchup with the Dallas Stars, a team that’s dominated them in all three meetings this season.

Saturday will bring another test for the Kings’ 1-3-1 defensive system, which has been a topic of discussion in both opposing dressing rooms during this trip.

Vancouver’s Nikita Zadorov blasted it, saying the Kings’ goal was to not play hockey, after their 3-2 win over the Canucks on Monday. Leon Draisaitl played along with an in-jest question asking if the puck-carrying forward “died a little inside” every time he had to dump the disc in against the Kings, whom his Edmonton Oilers beat 4-1 on Thursday.

While the 1-3-1 is roughly a century-old defensive system employed to varying degrees by several NHL teams, there exist questions about the Kings’ formula and its adaptability across situations. While they’ve been superb protecting leads – they’re 29-0-3 with a second-intermission advantage – the Kings have relied heavily on getting the game’s initial goal.

In 41 games where the Kings have scored first, they’re 27-6-8, good for a .756 points percentage and .659 wins percentage. When they’ve ceded the opening score, they’ve posted a .403 points percentage and a .355 win percentage.

Even so, those disparities are not nearly as stark as some other clubs. The St. Louis Blues have gone 31-1-3 when scoring first but just 8-27-3 when their opponent does the same. The Philadelphia Flyers, who’ve won 70% of their decisions when striking first, have won only 23.5% of games in which they trailed first.

“It doesn’t change our game at all,” Kings forward Quinton Byfield said of the game’s first goal. “We know what we have in this room and what it takes to win. We’ve got a strategy, we’re going to keep doing it, keep grinding other teams out, and that works for us.”

Byfield set up the Kings’ solitary goal against Edmonton, a team that eliminated them from the past two Stanley Cup Playoffs and then snapped their four-game winning streak Thursday. The scorer was perhaps even more notable, as it was Arthur Kaliyev shedding his persona non grata status to tally for the first time since Dec. 5. His turbulent campaign has been fettered by a plethora of healthy scratches.

“He’s an important player still on our team, he’s one of the guys, he’s here working every day,” said Kings interim coach Jim Hiller, who’d frequently scratched Kaliyev in favor of a seventh defenseman. “He’d been out for a while, he’s been a good soldier, chance to get him back in the lineup, nothing more than that.”

That seventh defenseman had been Jacob Moverare, who was sent to the minors Thursday in an effort to maintain his waiver exemption. He was recalled abruptly less than 24 hours later, signaling a potential game-time decision on a Kings player in Calgary. There, the Kings did not practice or hold media availability Friday to clarify the situation.

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Instead, off-ice work served as preparation for the Flames, who have had last season’s big-name trade acquisitions performing at a higher level in 2024.

In the calendar year, Nazem Kadri has been chasing a point-per-game pace and the theretofore disappointing Jonathan Huberdeau has rediscovered his scoring touch as well. Since the Flames dealt Elias Lindholm to Vancouver on Jan. 31, Huberdeau has scored 19 points in 23 games after accumulating just 26 in his prior 48. His production plummeted from 115 points in 2021-22 to just 55 last year following his move from Florida to Calgary.

Kings at Flames​


When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, Alberta

TV: KCAL (Ch. 9)

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