Youth was the dominant thread for the Kings.
It first applied to the lineup Thursday, then to the legs and hands of Austin Wagner and Adrian Kempe. It also applied to the re-shaping of the roster after general manager Rob Blake spoke about their trade deadline outlook.
Their overall outlook got rosier with an entertaining 3-2 shootout win against the Philadelphia Flyers, with goals by Wagner, Kempe and Tyler Toffoli’s first shootout goal for the winner. Wagner skated like a Labrador let loose in the yard and had a carefree explanation that summed up the young theme.
“I ate more ice cream than normal at pregame,” Wagner said. “I felt pretty good.”
Kempe extended his scoring streak to three games with a three-on-one goal in the second period and kept the shootout going with a shot that appeared to hit the crossbar before replays showed it ducked under the white netting.
“I thought it was in right away, but then obviously [there was] cheering for them, so I was kind of not sure,” Kempe said. “But, at the moment, I was 90 percent sure it hit the white thing in the back [of the net]. It was a good feeling.”
Good feelings, indeed. The Kings are 3-1 on this trip and 2-0 without injured Jeff Carter.“We’re tightening up in the D-zone, and we’re grabbing a bit of confidence and making some plays,” Wagner said. “We’re doing a lot of things right and we’re focusing on details. I think coming out of that break, we knew we’ve got to make a push for playoffs. We’re still in a spot to make it, and we all knew that. We’re trying to push for the playoffs right now.”
This push comes during a shift toward the future with players such as Wagner and Sean Walker, who played in place of Dion Phaneuf, a healthy scratch for the first time with the Kings.
“I think you’re always trying to find ways to get young guys in and get them to play,” Desjardins said. “I’ve been happy with our D, though, everybody’s played well. It’s not like anybody’s not played well enough to be in the lineup.”
In another nod to the roster retool, Blake restated that he seeks deals that will yield assets such as prospects or draft picks. The Kings are sellers trying to move veterans, but it might be more realistic to make those moves this summer.
Blake responded sarcastically to a TSN report that the Kings will likely make bigger moves in the offseason, saying , “TSN, they’re running our team …”
Blake said he’s not hemmed in by the Feb. 25 deadline.
“I’m not sure there is a time frame,” he said. “If the deals are right, if there’s something we like that will improve our team, we’ll look at it. It’s no different than any other year.”
Blake is pleased with the uptick, and Thursday was one of their best 60-minute efforts, against a Flyers team that sat star rookie goalie Carter Hart.
Both teams took turns clanging shots off the goal posts. Travis Konecny nearly extended Philadelphia’s win streak to nine with a post shot in overtime, after Jakub Voracek tied it with 18.2 seconds left in regulation with an extra attacker. The Kings had their share of iron, and several breakaways, along with Jonathan Quick’s 30 saves.
“We deserved that win,” Drew Doughty said. “We still felt that we were going to win it, no matter what. They tie it up late like that. Good play by them. They got one extra guy on the ice. Stuff’s going to happen. We never gave up.”
Wagner snapped the puck high off Kyle Clifford’s pass in the first period. He failed to convert a breakaway, and he thought he might make up for it in the shootout.
“Clifford and I were starting to think about it,” Wagner said. “We were like, ‘Once it gets to, like, 12th shooter, we might be going here.’ We were a little bit scared. I was a little bit nervous.”
For the record, Desjardins said Brendan Leipsic was on deck for the seventh shootout. But, said Doughty of Wagner, “I think a lot of guys were going for him.”