The Los Angeles Kings' resurgence, and subsequent climb out from the bottom spot of the Western Conference, will get its toughest test yet when the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning start the new year with their second game in three days in sunny Southern California.
The Kings have 35 points, better than only the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference. Los Angeles has started to solidify a bit under coach Willie Desjardins, who took over for a fired John Stevens just 13 games into the season.
The Kings have registered points in seven of their last 10 games, including five victories in that stretch, although they are coming off a 2-0 defeat to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.
"We've had some pretty good games," Desjardins said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "The past 10 games, it's not like they've been bad."
Perhaps Desjardins is not completely sold on his team's better play because he knows what the Lightning have done in their last 15 contests. Tampa Bay is riding a 14-0-1 stretch and is coming of its best month in franchise history.
The Lightning went 13-0-1 in December, becoming just the eighth NHL team in the past 10 years to play through an entire month without a loss in regulation.
Tampa Bay has earned a point in 15 consecutive games, most recently posting a 2-1 overtime road victory on New Year's Eve against the Anaheim Ducks. The only other Lightning team with a longer point streak was the 2003-04 squad that went a full 18 games. That team won the Stanley Cup.
"If we're going to want to play in the spring, and go deep in the spring, you have to be able to keep the puck out of your net," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "It was a big point for us (Tuesday) coming into ... this trip. We have to do that. Coming out of the break, call it some pretty loose hockey. It was probably fun for the fans, but we need to get this going so we can go deep in the spring."
Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will enter Thursday off his 100th career victory, when he made 35 saves against the Ducks. The win in Anaheim did not merely extend Tampa Bay's points streak, but it also avenged the club's last regulation defeat, a 3-1 loss to the Ducks on Nov. 27 in Florida.
Since March 2001, no pair of teammates had combined to record 50 points in a single month. That is until the Lightning's Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos combined for 51 in December. Four pairs of teammates actually combined for at least 50 points in March 2001. One of those sets was Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux, who had 59.
The Kings have been crushed by injuries this season but finally appear to be in recovery mode. Goaltender Jack Campbell returned Tuesday and played well in the 2-0 loss to the Golden Knights, stopping 46 of the 47 shots he faced. Defenseman Alec Martinez, out since mid-December with an upper-body injury, is listed as day-to-day.
Lightning center J.T. Miller came away with an upper-body injury Saturday in a 6-5 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, and he is on the injured reserve list. He is listed as week-to-week.
Updated January 3, 2019