It was loud inside the University of Pennsylvania’s Class of 1923 Arena on Friday afternoon. Really loud.
Pucks whizzed into the glass. Players shrieked and laughed and yelled at one another. Sticks repeatedly banged against the ice, giving the practice a syncopated beat to follow.
The Kings, winners of four straight for the first time since late November, countered frigidly low temperatures with tangible energy. They start a four-game road swing against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, and Friday’s practice offered two brewing conclusions: The Kings look like a confident hockey team and like a squad that is about to get better.
“You work hard and that’s where the fun comes from,” said goaltender Peter Budaj, who is tied for the NHL lead with six shutouts, a career high. “There’s not one thing to point to with why we’re playing well, but we can feel that we are.”
As Budaj faced shots, there was another encouraging sign in the opposite net. Jonathan Quick, who has been out with a groin injury since the Kings’ season-opening loss to the San Jose Sharks, did the same. Quick was fully dressed and skating during a practice in Los Angeles on Thursday, and Friday was another step in his recovery process.
The timetable for his return, which was deemed unclear by General Manager Dean Lombardi before the All-Star break, has not changed.
“He’s a 10-minute practice guy right now, so hopefully the trip goes well,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “The plan was, we have the break after, the five-day break, which is going to take him out of it again.
“So we wanted to get him in pads and full gear so when we get back from the break, then we can determine how far away he was again.”
Forward Tyler Toffoli, who has been out with a lower-body injury since Dec. 20, is much closer to action. Toffoli has been skating for almost two weeks and participated in line rushes alongside Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson on Friday. Sutter said he is a “game-time decision” against the Flyers and that they would discuss how he feels after practice.
Toffoli, despite all the time he has missed, ranks third on the Kings with eight goals in 32 appearances. Once he shakes off the dust, he is expected to provide an offensive boost for a team that hung five goals on the lowly Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.
The Kings hold the Western Conference’s first wild-card spot. They are eight points behind the Edmonton Oilers, who are in third place in the Pacific Division. A shaky season will be defined by the next two months.
“The question isn’t necessarily how we’ve been playing well,” Budaj said. “It’s how we can keep doing it.”
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. PST.
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia.
On the air: TV: Fox Sports West; Radio: 790.
Update: The Kings (24-21-4) lost 4-2 to the Flyers (26-20-6) in Los Angeles on Oct. 14. The Flyers have won four of five games. Rookie defenseman Paul LaDue, who was called up to the Kings this week, mixed with different defensemen throughout Friday’s practice. He seemed to be the odd man out of the seven-player group.