After a slow start, the Vancouver Canucks are closing the calendar year back among the elite teams in the Western Conference.
The Canucks look to win their fourth straight when they visit the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.
Vancouver won the Presidents' Trophy last season, but seemed to suffer a Stanley Cup loss hangover to open 2011-12. On Nov. 19, the Canucks were tied for 11th place in the West with 19 points (9-9-1).
Vancouver (24-12-2) has gone an NHL-best 15-3-1 since then, and has won six of seven and three straight to move to the top of the Northwest Division. The Canucks won 5-2 at Anaheim on Thursday, behind two goals from Daniel Sedin and a goal and two assists by Henrik Sedin.
"We're as good as last year (at this stage), but we're a different team," Daniel Sedin said. "We had a lot of new faces coming in, and different kinds of players. But we have a deep lineup and we've got everyone contributing on the back end. (Thursday), three of our lines scored and the fourth was playing extremely well."
Goaltending has been key to the turnaround. Through their first 19 games, the Canucks were giving up an average of 2.9 goals. They've allowed just 1.9 per game since then, with Roberto Luongo winning nine of his last 11 starts (9-1-1) to improve to 16-7-2 on the season.
Cory Schneider started Thursday's victory, but Luongo made 28 saves in a 3-2 win over the Kings on Nov. 10. He improved to 6-1-1 in his last eight starts versus Los Angeles, including three playoff outings. He has a 2.10 goals-against average during that stretch.
The Sedin twins have also played well against the Kings. Daniel has a nine-game point streak versus Los Angeles with six goals and nine assists while Henrik has 20 points in his last 17 games in the series.
The Kings (18-14-6), tied with San Jose atop the Pacific Division with 42 points, have also gotten solid play from their goaltending tandem of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier, giving up a total of 10 goals during a 4-0-2 stretch.
One night after Quick shut out Chicago, Bernier made 26 saves Thursday at Winnipeg but wound up on the losing end of a 1-0 score after Evander Kane beat him 1:09 into overtime.
"We were moving the puck, but we just couldn't finish it off," said Los Angeles forward Anze Kopitar, who has 10 goals on the season but none in his last 17 games. "You've got to work hard to create chances, and then you have to bear down on it. That's all there is to it."
The Kings are searching for offensive consistency. They're 0 for 21 on the power play over their last six games although they have managed 13 goals in that span.
Quick could be back in net Saturday, but has lost his last three starts against Vancouver -- all versus Luongo -- while allowing eight goals. He is 5-11-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average in his career versus the Canucks.
This contest begins a stretch of six straight for the Kings at Staples Center.
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