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Weekend Takeaways: Has Quick’s trade ignited a Kings-Knights rivalry?

Based on geography alone, there’s a logical path to the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings sparking up a good rivalry.

And what better way to goose a budding grudge than scrapping it out for a division title when one team is being backstopped by the other squad’s discarded legend?

Say what you will about Kings GM Rob Blake’s decision to trade Jonathan Quick to the Columbus Blue Jackets — who, in turn, flipped him to Vegas — about two weeks ago, but you have to respect the man’s dispassionate fortitude in pursuit of trying to make his team better.

The Kings have only played five games since dealing Quick, but L.A.’s five-on-five save percentage with Pheonix Copley and former Jacket Joonas Korpisalo as the battery is .957, second-best in the league since March 1. Before dealing Quick, the Kings ranked 30th in that category.

Copley took the ‘L’ on Saturday, but only let in one regulation-time goal as Los Angeles fell 2-1 in a shootout to the Nashville Predators.

If you have to respect Blake’s resolve, then what do we say about the way Quick has responded in the desert? Three games with Vegas, three wins for the 37-year-old, who earned his second shutout of the season on Saturday when he and the Knights went into Carolina and blanked the Hurricanes 4-0. Quick made 33 saves and now has a .939 save percentage with Vegas.

The next day, Jiri Patera made his NHL debut and become the fifth goalie to start for Vegas this season. He, too, picked up a ‘W’ as the Golden Knights beat St. Louis 5-3 in Missouri. After basically half a season’s worth of mediocrity (Vegas was 16-16-4 from mid-November through January) the Knights have found their way again, going 12-2-2 in their past 16 showings, including three straight on the road. That has them sitting atop the Pacific Division — and Western Conference — with 88 points, three ahead of a Kings team that lost for the first time in six outings on Saturday.

In their short history, it’s typically been Vegas that has been cast a villain, whether that’s because they act like pirates every time a prime free agent or trade target becomes available or simply because other teams hate the fact a new franchise has shown them up by already making a Cup final and appearing in the semifinals three times in its first four seasons.

Maybe for the first time since they were a crazy Cinderella story in Year 1, the no-dog-in-the-fight portion of the public is pulling for Quick and Vegas, hoping the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner gets his revenge. He’ll certainly be after it on April 6, when these teams clash in Vegas.

From this vantage point, though, Blake’s actions are entirely defensible and worthy of praise. You have to know it killed him to move Quick. Now the goalie is just a four-hour drive away, starting for a division rival.

Whether or not you believe L.A. was the bad guy in this one, all that matters is the competition between two good teams just got a lot juicer.

Other Takeaways

• The Penguins’ 5-1 throttling of their Keystone State rivals on Saturday crystalized the fact these squads are in very different places right now. The beatdown came the day after Philly fired GM Chuck Fletcher in the midst of an awful season and in the aftermath of a deadline that saw less selling than Flyers fans hoped. Interim GM Daniel Brière — who will have a major role in whatever comes next — has been clear he believes the Flyers need a rebuild. Myself, I’ve always wondered why teams in Philly’s position are often so hesitant to use the term; you’re already doing the hard part if you’re losing games every night, so you might as well position it as losing with a purpose by terming it a rebuild.

The Penguins, meanwhile, followed up the win over the Flyers with a big 3-2 overtime victory versus the Rangers on Sunday. Pittsburgh — which has had some real highs and lows this year — is 7-1-1 in its past nine as it moves closer to locking down an Eastern Conference wild-card spot.

Someday a massive rebuild will be coming for them, too. For now, though, the Pens are staying in the fight.

• Speaking of long-term projects, they may not be doing themselves any favours in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, but good on the Arizona Coyotes for the way they’ve battled in the second half. The Yotes dropped a 3-2 overtime affair in Colorado on Saturday, then turned around an won an extra-time game 5-4 over another quality squad, the Minnesota Wild, on Sunday. Arizona is now 10-5-6 in its past 21 games. 

Clayton Keller scored the winner versus Minny, his second of that game and third of the weekend. The 24-year-old winger now has a whopping 28 points in his past 17 games as we approach the one-year anniversary of him breaking his leg to end last season in horrifying fashion.

Also coming alive in a big way, 2018 fifth-overall pick Barrett Hayton. He went 2-2-4 versus Minny and has 19 points in his past 20 contests.

• Stick tap to the Bruins for clinching a playoff spot and becoming the fastest team to 50 wins (64 games) in league history on Saturday with their 3-2 comeback win over Detroit. That said, the sight of Hampus Lindholm in a walking boot Sunday probably chilled the good vibes. (Don’t worry too much; coach Jim Montgomery says he’ll play Tuesday).

Weekend Warrior

Tommy Novak was doing all he could to keep Nashville in the playoff fight on the weekend. The 25-year-old sophomore scored the lone goal Saturday in L.A. as the Preds pulled out a 2-1 shootout victory, then the Minnesota boy scored two — including the overtime winner — in Anaheim on Sunday to make a it a critical four-point California weekend for the Preds. Novak, by the way, is playing at 67-point pace in 33 games this year.

Red and White Power Rankings

1. Toronto Maple Leafs (40-17-8) Mitch Marner had a four-point showing on Saturday night during the Leafs’ 7-4 win over the Oilers. Four is also the number of players who have a better points-per-game mark than Marner (1.31) since the start of last season. It’s Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Leon Draisaitl and Nathan MacKinnon. That’s it.

2. Edmonton Oilers (36-23-8) Four second-period goals against in a six-minute span sunk the Oilers in Toronto on Saturday. Breakdowns like that make you wonder if this team will ever be good enough on the defensive side of the puck to truly threaten for the Cup.

3. Winnipeg Jets (38-26-3) It was a huge four-point weekend for the Jets in Florida, especially beating the Bolts 3-2 on Sunday without the services of Josh Morrissey.

4. Calgary Flames (30-24-13) Basically, as Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau go, so go the Flames. They better keep it going after Sunday’s 5-1 win over Ottawa.

5. Ottawa Senators (33-29-4) You knew the Cam Talbot injury was going to hurt and here we are. After losing 5-1 to Calgary, Ottawa has allowed five goals three times on its current western road swing and four goals once.

6. Vancouver Canucks (28-32-5) Andrei Kuzmenko is on pace for a 41-goal year after potting two versus the Sens in a 5-2 victory Saturday night. What a debut season for the Russian.

7. Montreal Canadiens (26-34-6) Make it six straight L’s for the Habs after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Devils. The good news? The Habs are playing quality opponents hard, while still simultaneously improving their Connor Bedard odds.

The Week Ahead

• The GM meetings take place Monday through Wednesday in Florida. Time to lay the groundwork for those big off-season trades!

• The Premier Hockey Federation playoffs begin on Thursday, with the Boston Pride facing Minnesota Whitecaps in a best-of-three semifinal, while the Toronto Six square off against Connecticut Whale starting Friday.

• So much of Tampa Bay’s success the past decade was driven by its ability to find and develop talent in the late rounds of the draft. Seventh-rounder Ondrej Palat (2011) was certainly a prime example of that. After 10 years — and two Cups — in Tampa, Palat returns to Amalie Arena as a member of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. (In an odd twist, the teams actually play twice in Jersey this week before the game on Saturday).


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