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Off-Day Watch 2/6: Good morning, Newark

Can I be on Team Sort of Tank But Also Win Enough Games To Emotionally Satisfy Me?

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NHL: Los Angeles Kings at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Not to steal Jon Rosen’s schitck, but good morning (at the time of writing this, at least) from sunny Newark, New Jersey, the morning after a spirited Kings win at the Prudential Center. As I mused on Twitter last night, there’s still no denying that this year’s Kings are a deeply flawed squad—it’s no accident that these two wins, their first back-to-back wins since December, came against teams also at the bottom of the league—but it’s still fun to see a win.

Maybe some people on Team Tank would prefer to see the Kings lose every game on the schedule and ice a roster consisting of the Ontario Reign plus Dustin Brown for the rest of the season, to assure the best chance at Jack Hughes. But you have to stay at least a little competitive. You have to come home with two points and some smiles every so often—for player morale, for confidence, for the health of the business as a whole.

Right now, the Kings are doing what they should be doing: beating up on other mediocre teams. And they’re hanging in there against good-but-maybe-not-elite teams like the Islanders. They can’t hang with the Maple Leafs and Lightnings of the world, and that’s okay. Well, it’s not okay, but it’s okay in the sense that this rebuild/retool/shakeup/word-Rob-Blake-doesn’t-want-to-say had to happen—in fact, was probably overdue—and this season laid that fact bare before the front office and, unfortunately, also the world as a whole.

But they’re taking advantage of mistakes. The Devils looked slow and disorganized for much of the game, and often looked like the team that played last night, rather than the Kings. Their power play made the Kings penalty kill look competent, and in comparison it also made the Kings power play look nearly elite. At one point, the Devils just passed the puck back and forth, slowly, methodically. If I could figure out from the stands what the Devils’ next move was going to be, then you can guarantee that any player on the ice in a white sweater was able to predict where that puck was going to go, too. I was starting to get anxious on the Devils’ behalf.

Are the Kings going to go on a run and mess up their chances at Jack Hughes? It’s possible, but maybe not likely. But young players who—if they’re not traded away in the offseason—should be counted on to be the change the Kings need for next season are starting to find their ways on the ice again. Shooters like Tyler Toffoli are finally seeing their shots go in. Adrian Kempe maybe possibly realized that he has to do more to justify his presence around here than just having a really good face.

Heck, even Dion Phaneuf was getting into the action with his first goal in almost a year.

Fun fact! Phaneuf has four goals in a Kings uniform, and I’ve been, uh, privileged??? enough to see three of they. They acquired Phaneuf while on their February trip last year, and he promptly scored in three of those games, and then nothing until last night. You’re welcome?

For me, it’s on to Philadelphia today. The Kings are probably going to go work out or something; I’m going to go stuff my face with some cheesecake and try to strategize the best way to get to meet Gritty.

by Sarah Avampato

Kings Things

Five goals! Five whole goals! [Jewels from the Crown]

Two minutes in the third period was all it took for the Devils to unravel. [All About the Jersey]

Post-game notes and reactions from Willie Desjardins, Tyler Toffoli, Jack Campbell, and Ilya Kovalchuk. [Kings Insider]

Elsewhere

Justin Schultz isn’t going to fix all of the Penguins’ problems. [PensBurgh]

Young players have traditionally taken short, team-friendly contracts when their ELCs are up. Has Auston Matthews changed everything for the elite players who are looking for big deals? [Raw Charge]

Hayley Wickenheiser will be the first woman since Angela Ruggiero in 2017 to be named to the IIHF Hall of Fame. [The Ice Garden]

We’ve got some competition on the Battle for Jack Hughes:

A log jam in the middle of the standings means that there aren’t many clear sellers as the trade deadline approaches. [AP News]

The Black Girl Hockey Club continued their road show, this time meeting up at Madison Square Garden to take in a game, meet players and broadcasters, and, oh yeah, Gary Bettman. [The Color of Hockey]

The Washington Capitals and NHL are teaming up to raise money to renovate Fort Dupont Ice Arena. The rink is the only public indoor ice arena located in Washington, D.C., and the only skating facility in the area that provides free or subsidized skating programs to children. [GoFundMe]

If you’re as fascinated by minor hockey as I am, here’s a great look inside the ECHL Idaho Steelheads. [The Athletic]

The Metropolitan Riveters are running out of time to turn their season around. [The Ice Garden]

The Auston Matthews contract makes clear what the Leafs’ contention window is. [Faceoff Circle]

Patrice Bergeron, everyone’s favorite Bruin, scored twice in his 1000th game. [Stanley Cup of Chowder]

Evening Entertainment

Only two games to choose from tonight. For a preview of one of the Kings’ upcoming opponents, watch the Boston Bruins take on the New York Rangers. The Bruins, despite being hampered by injuries all season long, look legit, and, well: Patrice Bergeron. That one airs on NBCSN at 5:00 pm Pacific time.