Canucks fighting through cold spell with Kings coming to town

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 12:41 AM

The perch atop the league standings held by the Vancouver Canucks is becoming tenuous as they prepare to host the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night in a clash of two struggling squads.

The Canucks of the Western Conference are tied with the New York Rangers of the Eastern at 83 points to lead the pack, but a 1-4-1 skid — with their latest disappointment a 4-3 overtime home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday — has diminished their breathing room.

“I think we’re trying to find that identity, that it’s really hard to finish games this time of year, and moving forward, our schedule doesn’t get any easier,” said forward J.T. Miller, who netted one goal and one assist. “If you want to play when we’re supposed to be playing, or when we want to be playing, it’s going to get hard, and we’ve been trying to talk about embracing the hardness.”

The Canucks, who end a three-game homestand against the Kings, appeared to have things in hand against the Penguins thanks to a pair of first-period goals. However, they surrendered that edge and then blew a 3-2 lead with less than 11 minutes remaining in regulation.

“Some guys looked tired out there,” Canucks coach Rick Tocchet said. “I thought there were a lot of average guys out there. We’re hanging in there, but we need some individuals to up their game. Some guys are just OK.”

Miller has been an exception. Against Pittsburgh, he scored his 30th goal of the season and is the fourth player in franchise history to record three consecutive 80-point seasons. He has collected six goals and 11 points in a five-game point streak. Brock Boeser is also riding a five-game run, with four goals and seven points.

The Kings have less of a buffer to play with these days, having dropped the first two games of a three-game trip through Western Canada and lost three of four outings.

Their latest setback was Tuesday’s 4-2 defeat to the Calgary Flames, a game in which they scored first and were tied going into the third period.

“We’ve got to find a way to win those,” forward Quinton Byfield said. “They came out hard, hungry. They were better than us the first couple of minutes, kind of carried on through the game. So, it’s tough when you start behind like that, but those are just games that we’ve got to win.”

Los Angeles is tied with the Nashville Predators and the teams hold the Western Conference’s two wild-card spots. Los Angeles has played two fewer games than the Predators. Even so, the Kings know the losses cannot keep adding up.

“It’s playoff hockey until the end,” forward Phillip Danault said. “We’ve put ourselves in this position and we’ve got to live with it.”

The Kings are dealing with some injury issues. Forward Adrian Kempe is no longer on the trip after suffering an upper-body injury in Monday’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers. They were already without a couple of forwards – Carl Grundstrom and Viktor Arvidsson — as well as defenseman Mikey Anderson.

The silver lining is the recent play of forward Kevin Fiala, who netted one goal and one assist in Calgary and has collected four goals and six points in a five-game stretch.

“He’s playing great right now,” Byfield said. “His offensive side of the game is there and he’s playing good defensively as well. He’s helping us when we need him.”

–Field Level Media