The All-Star break is often seen as the point when NHL teams catch their collective breath and return to make a final push to the playoffs. But for the Kings, who are a point behind Calgary for the second West wild card spot and have three games in hand on the Flames, competition for a postseason spot has been going on for quite a while.
“You look at it, we’ve been pushing for the playoffs the entire year. We’ve been in the battle. So I don’t think the mind-set changes,” defenseman Alec Martinez said after the Kings held their morning skate at Gila River Arena in advance of Tuesday’s game against the Coyotes.
“Certainly, it’s that time of year when it’s moving day. These are important games, especially during this stretch. You look at it, our team, we have six games before we go on a break again, so I don’t think we’re necessarily thinking about the next 30-some odd games. I think we’re going to focus on this one tonight and then the next six. Then I guess there’s something to be said that this is the crunch time of year, but we’re focused on these six right now.”
The Kings will get their mandatory bye week after they play at Florida on Feb. 9. They don’t have another game after that until Feb. 16, when they’re home to face Arizona.
They won’t face a team that’s above them in the West playoff standings until Feb. 19, when they face the Ducks at Anaheim, but Martinez said that won’t factor into players’ thinking.
“You put an emphasis on division games and tonight is a division game,” he said. “Oftentimes your record in the division gets you a playoff spot, so regardless of who we’re playing against, we have an opportunity to get two points every night, and we need those two points. We’re battling right now so regardless of our opponent, the games are crucial.”
Coach Darryl Sutter agreed that the idea of a playoff push isn’t a new one for his team. “We’ve been in and out of a spot since Day 1,” he said. “I think we’re still trying to recover the ground. … Just thinking about it, the first 10 games we were 4-6 after [Jonathan] Quick got hurt and it was an issue. You look at it, there’s six or seven teams that have won twice as many as they’ve lost and there’s about almost 20 teams that are .500 or over, two or three that aren’t. That tells you how close the league is.”
Right wing Tyler Toffoli, out since Dec. 22 because of a lower-body injury, participated in the morning skate but didn’t take line rushes on a regular basis. “He appears on the verge of making a comeback. That’s how it appears to me,” Sutter said, adding that he still must talk to various medical personnel before determining when Toffoli will return.