The Los Angeles Kings are finally playing the way many expected this season, and they'll bring a season-long four-game winning streak into their matchup against the visiting Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday at Staples Center.
The Kings defeated the Golden Knights 4-3 in overtime on Sunday and return to Las Vegas again Tuesday for the fourth and final meeting between these teams this season. Los Angeles also beat visiting Vegas 5-1 on Dec. 8.
"We're trying to just take it one game at a time, quite honestly," Kings forward Dustin Brown said after scoring the go-ahead goal in a 2-1 win Thursday night against the visiting Arizona Coyotes. "We put ourselves in a pretty big hole."
The Kings (15-20-3) were 4-8-1 when they fired coach John Stevens on Nov. 4, and just 5-8 in the first 13 games under Willie Desjardins. They won three games in a row for the first time this season when they defeated the Golden Knights last weekend.
The Pacific Division is a lot tighter among the top teams in the standings than it was last season, leaving the Kings just eight points behind the final playoff spot heading into Friday. Brown, one of a handful of core players for the Kings who won Stanley Cup titles in 2012 and 2014, said it's too early to start thinking about playoff positioning.
"I think it's more important for our group, especially the young guys on our team, to understand how we need to play to win," Brown said. "We didn't do it for a big stretch of games early. I think we have played better. I thought (Thursday) was not our best game. It's more important that we start to learn. We have a lot of new guys with not a lot of experience of what it takes to win at this level."
Vegas (21-15-4) reached the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year of existence last season. The Golden Knights haven't been as hot through the first half as they were last season, when they accumulated 58 points (28-10-2) through the first 40 games.
Vegas made one of the biggest offseason acquisitions in the NHL when they traded for left wing Max Pacioretty, a five-time 30-goal scorer with the Montreal Canadiens. Pacioretty had 10 goals in 30 games with Vegas but sustained a lower-body injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 17 and has missed the past four games.
Pacioretty is eligible to come off injured reserve against the Kings, but the Golden Knights may not rush him back, especially with how his replacement on the second line, Brandon Pirri, has been playing lately.
Pirri has four goals and an assist in five games in December. He was called up from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League for the second time this month on Thursday and scored the game-winner midway through the third period of a 2-1 win against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.
"If I'm going to contribute, it's going to be scoring goals," Pirri told reporters afterward. "My confidence never wavered. I always believed in myself. This is just another opportunity to prove myself."