The Edmonton Oilers reach the midway point of the season this weekend, hoping to improve their playoff picture during a visit to Southern California.
The first of the Oilers' back-to-back games will take place Saturday against a Los Angeles Kings team that is in last place in the Western Conference and is coming off a 6-2 thumping by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On Sunday, Edmonton will take the short bus ride to face the Anaheim Ducks, who sit slightly above the Oilers in the chase for wild-card playoff spots in the conference.
The opportunity is there for a couple of wins, but after closing out December with six consecutive defeats, the Oilers know they can't overlook anybody - not even a Kings team whose 35 points are tied for the worst in the NHL.
Edmonton (19-18-3) showed a refreshed outlook Wednesday when it started its four-game trip with a 3-1 victory at Arizona.
"It's a big road trip for us," Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "When you're on a slide like that and you're about to face some divisional teams, it becomes even more important. It was a big win (Wednesday). You can see how much we (buckled) down to come out with two points. It was a full effort from the whole group."
The Kings (16-23-3) had been on a recent upswing, collecting points in seven of their previous 10 games before Thursday. But the Lightning came to Los Angeles and showed what a true roll is all about, pocketing an easy 6-2 victory while earning a point in their 16th consecutive game.
Even when the Kings showed life with a goal from Austin Wagner in the second period to make it 4-1, the Lightning responded with two more goals. Kings All-Star defenseman Drew Doughty scored in the closing minutes.
"We're going to watch video and we're going to learn from our mistakes, so that's all we can do now," Wagner said. "There's no point in dwelling anymore, it's just learning from what we did wrong and you know, we're going to do that."
The Kings do have 11 points from their last 10 games, while the Oilers will enter with seven points in their last 10, showing evidence that Los Angeles has been playing better of late than some teams ahead of them in the standings.
The Kings were also 3-1 in their last four home games before Tampa Bay stormed through their building Thursday.
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick allowed the six Tampa Bay goals on 33 shots, as the Lightning scored three times on eight power-play chances. But backup Jack Campbell played well in a 2-0 defeat at Las Vegas on New Year's Day, leaving the Kings with a decision in goal Saturday.
Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen gave up just one goal Wednesday at Arizona on 30 shots.
"(Wednesday) we had a tremendous goalie again and I thought we checked our way to a win," Oilers center Leon Draisaitl said. "We wanted to take another step in the right direction, keep improving and keep getting better as a group. (Wednesday) was obviously a very big win for us."
Updated January 4, 2019