PITTSBURGH — When the Kings wrap up their three-game, four-day trip Thursday against Pittsburgh, they'll also finish the non-conference portion of their schedule.
They might not want it to end because they've had such success against the East this season, at 20-8-3. Among West teams, only San Jose (21-7-4) and St. Louis (21-5-2) have more wins against the East.
But playing exclusively within the West means less travel, and that's always welcome.
After Thursday, the Kings will have eight games remaining, four against teams currently holding playoff spots and four against non-playoff teams. Their final six games will be against Pacific Division rivals. They will venture outside the Pacific time zone only once more, to play at Calgary and Edmonton on April 9-10.
"It's sort of disjointed but it's all in our conference and other than, I think, those two games, in our time zone," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said Wednesday.
"The schedule is tough. That's the bottom line. In an Olympic year everybody's going to say that at some point. I actually liked our road schedule and the way it was set up. I didn't like how our home schedule was set up."
Most teams, he said, don't play for two days after they return from a trip. The Kings generally get only one day off, as is the case with this trip. "That's been the toughest part for our team," he said.
Sutter made practice on Wednesday optional, and most players skipped it. Backup goaltender Martin Jones skated but it's unclear if he will start Thursday. Sutter rarely discloses his starting goalie.
Sutter's decision to start Jonathan Quick at Philadelphia on Monday and at Washington on Tuesday was mildly surprising, but he explained it as a way to get Quick acclimated to playoff pace and intensity after Quick missed nearly seven weeks earlier in the season because of a groin injury.
"We look at it as our star player hasn't played many games this year and we're trying to get him up to that because a horse has to run every 10 days," Sutter said.
Sutter also said while Quick has never declined to play back-to-back games, "I know him good enough that when I look at him I can tell if he's tired or not."
With seven straight road wins, the Kings can tie the franchise record of eight, set in the 1974-75 season.
Honors for Blake, Robitaille
Rob Blake, the Kings' assistant general manager, was appointed general manager of Team Canada for the men's World Championships, to be played May 9-25 in Minsk, Belarus. Ron Hextall, who left the Kings to become assistant general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, will be one of Blake's assistants.
Blake said the Kings would be his priority if they're playing when the world tournament begins. The role with Hockey Canada will give him a chance to branch out and to scout. "I've had a good relationship with them from the start, and I'm willing to help out whenever asked or needed," he said.
Hockey Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille, the Kings' president of business operations, was named to the Hall's selection committee.
Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, one of the NHL's leading scorers, will be out of the lineup two to three weeks because of an injured foot. Brandon Sutter, a nephew of the Kings' coach, is expected to replace Malkin as the second-line center with wingers Jussi Jokinen and James Neal.
When: 4 PDT.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 870.
Etc.: The Penguins are 6-6-2 since the Olympic break. In their last three games they've faced their opponent's backup goalie — they beat Tampa Bay's Anders Lindback but lost to St. Louis' Brian Elliott and Phoenix's Thomas Greiss.
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