Playoff-style hockey is beginning to emerge for NHL teams desperate to stay in the race.
The Los Angeles Kings expect the best the visiting Washington Capitals have to offer when they meet on Monday night.
The Capitals have not missed the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2014, but heading into Sunday they were three points behind the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 18 games remaining.
“These are the kinds of games we’re going to see as we get closer to the end of the year,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “Tight-checking, not a lot of space, kind of slugging it out in the corners and in tight areas, and we have to be able to play on both sides of that, with or without the puck.”
Adding to the challenge for Washington’s postseason hopes is three other teams began Sunday also three points out of the final wild card and two, the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators, have multiple games in hand on the Capitals.
Washington took a mixed approach heading into last week’s trade deadline, dealing away five of their 12 pending unrestricted free agents, while adding multiple draft picks and defenseman Rasmus Sandin.
The Capitals ultimately chose to keep unrestricted free agents Conor Sheary and Trevor van Riemsdyk in hopes of possibly extend their contracts this summer.
Washington played its first game since the deadline and beat the San Jose Sharks 8-3 on Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist — all in the third period — to pull him within 79 goals of tying Wayne Gretzky for the NHL career record (894).
Sandin overcame a rough start to contribute three assists in his first game with the Capitals.
“I thought I was awful in the first period,” Sandin said. “I had no idea what I was doing out there sometimes.”
Washington defenseman Vincent Iorio made his NHL debut against the Sharks and assisted on one of Ovechkin’s goals for his first point.
“I never thought I’d dream of that, but it’s pretty cool,” Iorio said. “He’s one of the greatest to ever play, if not the greatest. I look up to him, a lot of players look up to him, and I’m happy.”
The Kings weren’t overly active heading into the trade deadline, but they did make one surprising move, sending veteran goalie Jonathan Quick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for goalie Joonas Korpisalo and defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov.
Korpisalo made his first start for Los Angeles on Saturday night and made 24 saves in a 4-2 win against the visiting St. Louis Blues, which gave the Kings four wins in their past five games and moved them back into a temporary tie in points with the Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the Pacific Division. The Golden Knights won Sunday to reclaim the top spot.
McLellan has also been impressed with the play of Gavrikov, especially on the other side of the red line.
“I saw some offensive instincts in Gavrikov (against the Blues), where he jumped in and went to holes and created or kept alive some offensive plays,” McLellan said. “I was told he has that in his game.”
–Field Level Media