Kings bracing for league-best Capitals

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings pursuit of a postseason berth continues Saturday at Staples Center against a formidable opponent, the league-leading Washington Capitals.

Though the contest is a pivotal one for Los Angeles, currently ninth in the Western Conference, Washington's recent slippage has tightened the race for the Metropolitan Division title and the first overall seed in the East, increasing the importance of the contest for the visitors.

The Capitals (44-15-7) started off its three game California road trip by dropping a 4-2 decision to San Jose on Thursday, its second straight loss. The Capitals have gone 5-4-1 since returning from their bye week, allowing the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins to draw within striking distance of the division lead.

Washington's top-five penalty kill betrayed them in the loss as two power-plays goals by Logan Couture was the deciding factor in the game.

"Our 5-on-5 play was fine, San Jose hit on the power play tonight," said Capitals coach Barry Trotz. "We haven't lost two in a row much in the last couple of seasons, we'll have to go into Los Angeles and respond. We're in a race for the division title and I'm not concerned with our play right now.

The Capitals dominated the Kings 5-0 in their prior matchup this season, getting balanced scoring with five different players hitting the scoresheet and getting strong work between the pipes by backup goaltender Phillip Grubauer, who stopped 38 Los Angeles shots.

The Capitals acknowledges that their play has dulled over the past three weeks and they bear little resemblance to the group that won 12 of 13 games in January.

"Nobody is happy the way we are playing right now," said Brett Connolly. "We are a really good team and don't want to lose three games in a row so the Los Angeles game is an important one."

Los Angeles (32-28-6) won a pivotal game in its pursuit of a playoff berth by beating Nashville 3-2 in overtime Thursday. One of its new additions, veteran winger Jarome Iginla, potted two power-play goals, including the game-winner.

Though the Kings enter the contest on the outside looking in for the playoffs, Iginla is optimistic on their chances after experiencing a difficult season with the last-place Colorado Avalanche.

"I'm positive, I'm very optimistic. I know we've got a lot of work to do but these guys, they're winners," Iginla said "It's a very tight-knit group. Not just coming to play with them over the last week, but just playing against them. This time of year, they find ways -- a whole crew of them have two Stanley Cups. The leadership that they have -- they get in these tight games and they seem to like them even more. There's a lot of work left to do, but the guys enjoy these types of games and are used to them."

The Kings will attempt to slow the game down against a third-ranked Washington offense that produces goals from all four lines. Though they have flourished lately with the man advantage, registering seven power-play goals over the last four games, 5-on-5 play has been a season-long challenge for Los Angeles and has produced only one goal in their last four games while surrendering nine.

With little margin for error in a tight playoff race, every game for Los Angeles has increased importance.

"In order to keep winning we need to get more from our best players 5-on-5," coach Darryl Sutter said. ""Every game now is a playoff game for us."