With fewer than 30 games remaining in the regular season, the Kings are running out of time if they hope to reach the NHL playoffs and do so injury-free. And though neither goal is guaranteed, the team appears to be making progress toward both as it opens a two-game swing through Florida, meeting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday before facing the Florida Panthers on Thursday in Sunrise, Fla.
Despite being blown out Sunday at Washington, the Kings have won five of six and woke up Monday leading the Western Conference’s wild-card race. Plus they got winger Tyler Toffoli back in the lineup on this trip after a six-week absence and welcomed injured goaltender Jonathan Quick back to their traveling party for the first time since a season-opening journey to San Jose.
Toffoli rejoined center Jeff Carter on the Kings’ second line and skated nearly 32 minutes combined against the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals. And though the offense continued to sputter, managing only an overtime goal in Saturday’s win over the Flyers, Coach Darryl Sutter was pleased with Toffoli’s performance.
“I thought he was really good both games,” Sutter said. “He had some great opportunities both games. There was probably a little bit of fatigue. It’s not easy just coming in and playing back to back. You’ve been off two months.
“He’s fine. He said he felt good.”
Meanwhile Quick, who suffered a groin injury in the first period of the season opener, has returned to the ice in practice, skating with teammates and facing shots in goal. But he isn’t expected to be available to play until early next month.
The Kings also are without defenseman Matt Greene and forward Jordan Nolan, who are on the injured reserve list. But while Quick is traveling, Nolan, who would not have been eligible to play on the team’s four-game East Coast trip, stayed in Southern California.
“I wouldn’t know why you’d go from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean when you’ve got five days off,” Sutter said.
A day after his worst game of the season, Kings goalie Peter Budaj said there was no sense in pretending it didn’t happen. The NHL’s leader in shutouts with seven, Budaj saw his scoreless streak of more than 147 minutes end early in the first period of Sunday’s 5-0 loss.
His time on the ice also ended early, Sutter pulling him after two periods with the Capitals up 4-0.
“It did happen. But the game’s over, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Budaj said. “You’re going to look at the video, get better. Improve what we have to improve.
“We’ve got to move forward. We’ve got to learn from that and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
KINGS NEXT UP
When: Tuesday, 4:30 p.m. PST.
On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: 790.
Update: The Kings (27-22-4) held a brisk afternoon practice Monday in an effort to regroup after their most one-sided loss of the season Sunday. They’ll try to get well against a Tampa Bay team that defeated the Kings last month at Staples Center. The Lightning (23-24-6) have fallen on hard times since that game, however, losing six of seven before defeating the Ducks on Saturday in a shootout. That was only their second win in seven home games since the calendar flipped to 2017.