Los Angeles Kings coach Todd McLellan is beginning to like what he sees from his team.
He’ll look for more reasons to be optimistic when the Kings host the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
Los Angeles played its best game of the season on Tuesday in a 4-2 win against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning, ending a 10-game losing streak against the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions.
“This is a brand new slate for us,” McLellan said after the win. “I’d like to think we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Kings were coming off a five-game road trip that began with one-goal wins against the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators, but ended with a 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday and a 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday — a game in which the Kings blew a 2-0 lead to start the third period.
“Even the game in Washington, other than the comeback, we’re starting to do some things characteristic of last year,” McLellan said. “We’ll still find our way and evolve as we go.”
Winnipeg is also coming off its best all-around win of the season, a 4-0 victory against the visiting St. Louis Blues on Monday.
Connor Hellebuyck, who stopped 25 shots against St. Louis for his 29th NHL shutout, said the Jets are moving in the right direction.
“We know we have it in this room and we needed to show it for 60 minutes,” Hellebuyck said. “Now that we have, now we have something to build on.”
Winnipeg coach Rick Bowness will not accompany the team on the three-game road trip because of lingering COVID-19 symptoms. He has missed five of the past six games.
Bowness departed the morning skate on Monday because of dizziness and was not on the bench that night or at practice on Wednesday.
Scott Arniel will continue handling head coaching duties in Bowness’ absence.
Kings forward Viktor Arvidsson was a late scratch against the Lightning because of an illness. Arvidsson took warmups with the team before it was announced he would be unavailable.
Los Angeles will have a tough decision in the near future regarding rookie defenseman Brandt Clarke, who has played seven games with the Kings so far.
A player on an entry-level contract can participate in nine games before the season counts toward the first year of his contract.
If he’s sent to the American Hockey League after nine games, it would also count toward his first year, but not if he’s returned to the junior level. If sent to the junior level, it would delay the start of Clarke’s contract until next season.
Clarke has been solid for the Kings, earning his second NHL assist on Monday night with a skillful centering pass to Blake Lizotte, which turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Clarke has been used in all types of situations, leaving McLellan impressed with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
“He seems to find his way out on the ice so, obviously, we believe in him or we wouldn’t be doing that,” McLellan said. “The organization has to sit down and make decisions on what’s right for him, for us, for the future, for now. All Brandt has to do is worry about practice (Wednesday).”
–Field Level Media