|Streaking Kings host struggling Senators|
LOS ANGELES -- The red-hot Los Angeles Kings will attempt to extend a season-best, six-game winning streak when they oppose the struggling Ottawa Senators on Thursday night at Staples Center.
Los Angeles (18-8-3) used a four-goal third period rally to defeat the visiting Minnesota Wild 5-2 on Tuesday night. Marian Gaborik registered two goals, Anze Kopitar had a goal and two assists, and Drew Doughty posted three assists in support of a 19-save performance by goaltender Jonathan Quick.
The final-period blitz was consistent with Los Angeles' play this season, as the Kings have outscored the opposition 40-13 in the third period. Los Angeles' penchant for starting games slowly reared its head, producing a lethargic 40 minutes against the Wild before the offense kicked into gear.
"I thought the third period was terrific," Kings coach John Stevens said. "I actually thought it was a pretty good hockey game overall. There was really tight checking by both teams and they made a good play and caught a break to come back and scored after we tied it up, so we just tried to get regrouped.
"It's probably as good a third period as we've had this year in terms of moving the puck, getting it deep, coming up with loose pucks, and scoring goals goes without saying, but I thought that was just a really solid third period coming off a road trip."
Gaborik (four goals, two assists in seven games) has been an impact player since returning Nov. 24 at Arizona. He missed the season's first 22 contests while recovering from offseason knee surgery.
His two goals against Minnesota included the 400th of his career, which extended the Kings' lead to 4-2. Stevens had moved him to the wing in support of Kopitar and Dustin Brown, who are experiencing bounce-back seasons.
With Gaborik off to a hot start and having played with Kopitar and Brown at length in previous seasons, he could remain in the role that was filled by rookie Alex Iafallo in his absence.
"I think getting more comfortable each game, and obviously the lines change, but it's a long season," Gaborik said. "(The lines are) going to be going back and forth, but whatever it takes to win games. Tonight, it clicked pretty well for us."
The Kings are looking to sweep the two-game season series. Los Angeles registered a 3-2 shootout victory in Ottawa on Oct. 24.
The Senators (9-11-6) are in the midst of a pivotal season-high, seven-game road trip that may hold to the key to their postseason chances. After getting routed 5-0 by Winnipeg in the opener of the trip, Ottawa took its second consecutive shutout defeat, falling to the Anaheim Ducks 3-0 on Wednesday.
Though the effort was slightly better than the one against the Jets, the lack of execution by players whom coach Guy Boucher was counting on continues to a signature of the team's poor play. Though the effort would not get a victory on most nights, Boucher refused to criticize the performance.
"It was a terrific bench," Boucher said. "Players sticking together and paying the price. We knew this was a big, tough, physical (Anaheim) team. We met that physicality right on, right from the beginning. We got to reload, replenish here and go back at it with the character and the togetherness we had tonight."
Ottawa's acquisition of Matt Duchene in a three-way trade with Colorado and Nashville has to be deemed a failure to date given his lack of production. He has registered only one goal and one assist with a minus-11 rating in 12 games since his arrival on Nov. 5.
Duchene has not been the lone culprit in Ottawa's disappointing start. Perennial All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson has been slow to return to top form after offseason ankle surgery. Karlsson has produced only one goal in 21 contests while posting a team-worst minus-12 rating.
Goalie Craig Anderson, who backstopped the team to within one game of the Stanley Cup Final last spring, has a 7-9-3 record with an .895 save percentage, far below his career .916 mark.
The lone bright spot for Ottawa has been the play of winger Mark Stone, who leads the team with 14 goals. The 25-year-old Winnipeg native is on track for his first 30-goal season. Stone stands to earn a substantial raise from the $3.5 million he is making on the final year of his contract. He will be an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent July 1.