Kings return home to face Avalanche
LOS ANGELES -- A rapidly maturing Colorado Avalanche squad visits Staples Center on Thursday night as the Los Angeles Kings return home.
Los Angeles (21-10-4) salvaged the final contest of a four-game road trip with a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak.
Jonathan Quick was outstanding in net for the Kings, stopping 35 shots while receiving goal support from Alec Martinez, Trevor Lewis, Adrian Kempe and Tyler Toffoli.
Toffoli, who sealed the victory in Philadelphia with a late-third-period goal, continues to return to form after an injury-plagued 2016-17 season. The insurance marker was his 16th of the season, equaling his output in 63 games last season, when he missed time because of a leg injury that hampered throughout the campaign's second half.
Now at full health, he has regained the form of two seasons ago, when he registered a career-high 31 goals.
Though more than half the season remains, the victory in Philadelphia was important for the Kings. The team played poorly in the opener of the road trip in New Jersey, and despite improving efforts against the New York Rangers and New York Islanders, Los Angeles was not rewarded with a victory.
The team had extra motivation Monday, as it marked the first time John Stevens coached in Philadelphia against his former club. Stevens led the Flyers from 2006-09. Although the Kings defeated the Flyers 2-0 in the season opener at Staples Center, the return match in Philadelphia had special meaning.
"I'll be totally honest, it's nice to be where my kids grew up," Stevens said. "It's a win for them. This was a big game for us on this trip. I really wanted to take two points home for us. It's just a nice win against a quality hockey team."
A longtime Kings veteran is set to record a significant milestone when the puck drops Thursday. Dustin Brown is scheduled play his 1,000th NHL game, which will make him the 315th player in league history to achieve that mark.
Brown will be the second Los Angeles player to reach the plateau in the past week as Marian Gaborik achieved it against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
Unlike Gaborik, Brown has played his entire career in a Kings uniform, a feat that seemed unlikely given his lack of the production the past two seasons under former coach Darryl Sutter.
Brown survived offseason speculation that he would be selected in the NHL expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights or be traded. He will become only the second person to play each of his first 1,000 NHL games for the Kings, joining Dave Taylor, who played in 1,111 games as a King.
Like Toffoli, Brown has responded with a bounce-back season. Getting a fresh start under Stevens, Brown has 12 goals, 16 assists and a plus-14 rating in 35 games, a level of production that should see him easily surpass last season's totals (14 goals, 22 assists in 80 games).
Los Angeles made a roster move Wednesday after placing defenseman Christian Folin on injured reserve as a result of an upper-body injury he sustained Monday. Kevin Gravel was recalled from the Kings' AHL Ontario affiliate.
Gravel has appeared in 24 games with Ontario this season, registering three goals, six assists and 15 penalty minutes. Gravel appeared in 49 games last season with the Kings, posting one goal, six assists, a plus-3 rating and six penalty minutes.
Colorado (16-15-2) will enter its first matchup of the season against Los Angeles with confidence brimming from a 4-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins in Denver on Monday night. The Avalanche swept the season series with Pittsburgh.
Though the Penguins have struggled to find their championship form, the pair of wins in which the Avalanche limited Pittsburgh to three goals shows Colorado's defensive potential.
"We played a with a lot of determination tonight," defenseman Mark Barberio said Monday. "I think these wins against Pittsburgh show that we can compete with anybody."
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar concurred with Barberio about the team's improvement and increased confidence. After starting December with a four-game losing streak, Colorado has won four of its past six contests.
While the Avalanche are far from pushing for the top of the Central Division, the club bears no resemblance to the one that registered a league-low 48 standings points last season.
"We are growing as a team," Bednar said. "We did a lot of good things against Pittsburgh. We are gradually becoming more consistent at the things we are supposed to do."
Nathan MacKinnon has lead the way offensively for Colorado, registering 15 goals and 24 assists in 33 games. With Matt Duchene traded to Ottawa in November, MacKinnon has combined with wingers Gabriel Landeskog (13 goals, 12 assists) and Mikko Rantanen (10 goals, 19 assists) to form a formidable first line.
For Colorado to further improve this season, it must receive more offense from its depth players as the first line trio are the only Avalanche players with double-digits goals totals.
The Avalanche will be without a key blue-line contributor as defenseman Erik Johnson will miss the contest as he completes his two-game suspension as the result of a hit on Tampa Bay's Vladislav Namestnikov in Colorado's 6-5 loss to the Lightning on Saturday.
Updated December 21, 2017