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The Los Angeles Kings probably didn’t expect to have a goaltender controversy this season, not with former Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick returning for his 10th season as the starter.
But struggles by Quick combined with superior play by backup Darcy Kuemper has created a tough decision for Los Angeles coach John Stevens when the Edmonton Oilers and red-hot forward Connor McDavid visit Staples Center on Wednesday.
Since a 5-0 shutout against the Oilers (23-24-4) on Jan. 2 in Edmonton, Quick has lost seven of eight starts for Los Angeles (28-19-5). He was pulled after allowing five goals on 19 shots in a 6-2 loss against the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 23.
After spending a week on injured reserve for an undisclosed injury that kept him out of the All-Star Game on Jan. 28, as well as the contest before and the game afterward, Quick returned to the net Thursday and allowed five more goals in a 5-0 loss at the Nashville Predators.
Kuemper stepped in and posted back-to-back shutouts last week against the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes, and the career backup hasn’t allowed a goal in his past 170 minutes, 30 seconds.
“Darcy is seeing the puck right now. The puck’s hitting him,” Stevens said after the 6-0 victory against the Coyotes on Saturday. “He’s probably played as well as he’s ever played, and he’s really come in and played sound for us. With a couple days in between, you don’t often get that. We’ll enjoy the win, but there’s no question we’re going to need both our goalies to win hockey games as we move along here.”
Tomorrow is Chinese Heritage Night at the LA Kings game! Buy tickets and you’ll receive this limited edition t-shirt 👌
>> https://t.co/vhpQFksZd3 pic.twitter.com/zXdZpLCmJi
— LA Kings (@LAKings) February 7, 2018
McDavid scored a career-high four goals Monday night in a 6-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning and has six goals and an assist in his past two games.
“He’s one of the top players in the league, blessed with the speed and the skill and everything you want in a hockey player,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters after the game. “He’s fun to watch.”
Edmonton is coming off its best seven-game stretch of the season, posting a 5-1-1 mark that includes wins against the Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, who lead their respective conferences.
The Oilers are 12 points behind Calgary and Anaheim for third place in the Pacific Division and 13 points out a wild-card spot.
“There’s absolutely a ton of hope in our dressing room,” Edmonton winger Ryan Strome told the Toronto Star after practice Tuesday. “If we play like we did against (Tampa Bay) we’ll be fine, and obviously he (McDavid) is going to be the one that is leading us.”
Trevor Lewis is in his 10th season with the Kings and he set a career high with his 13th goal against the Coyotes. Lewis also scored in the win against the Oilers earlier this season, and has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in his career against Edmonton, the only team he has reached double figures against.
The Kings are also expected to have one of their top defensemen back. Alec Martinez missed the Arizona game with a lower-body injury sustained against the Predators, but practiced Monday and Tuesday.