The LA Kings are hanging by a thread, not thanks to them, but thanks to their now-archrival, St. Louis, who beat the Ducks in the last minute Friday, then whacked the Islanders on Saturday before the LA-Washington game began at 7:30 California time.
That meant that the Blues had pulled out to a five-point advantage on the Kings, who were, let’s be realistic, going to have to play awfully well to beat the Capitals. Just look at the GF-GA numbers: Washington has scored 214 goals and allowed 143 (coming into the night). The Kings are on a lowly 164 for and two more against. Thus they had a job to keep the Caps in check.
Add to that a little Capital city anger at having lost to San Jose late in the week, by a 4-2 score, and you had the recipe for a motivated Washington squad.
It didn’t take them very long to stretch Jonathan Quick from side to side of his net, forcing him to explode over to his right to make a save. And it wasn’t long after that they scored. It was on the power play, Jakub Vrana deflecting a puck shot from the point by Shattenkirk (would that he had just stayed with the Blues and done his damage there instead!) after Justin Williams put the puck out off the left boards. Goalie: no chance on this one.
But the Kings didn’t collapse, though it took them half the period to get their legs. As the frame went on, they pushed, ending with nine shots to Washington’s four, and they got a goal.
It was scored by Gaborik, but the goal was all Kopitar. He got a puck just inside the blueline and weaved his way through the zone, somehow completely bamboozled Matt Niskanen, and got off a shot on goal. The goalie, on this night Philipp Grubauer, pushed the puck out to the slot (might want to rethink that as a save selection) onto the stick of Gaborik. He fired it in.
What does this mean? That the beast is awakening. In the last four games, Kopitar has (now) three goals, Iginla two, and Gaborik two. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that Kopitar and Gaborik combined had 13 all the year up to that point, well, it’s production the likes of which the team has been sorely lacking.
But then how do you explain that the Kings came out completely flat in period two and were scored on in the first 47 seconds? You can’t. I can’t. And Sutter, well, we all know how he is about ‘splaining things after a game. The carnage continued, with the Kings turning the puck over several times and Washington just playing like they were a head taller all over the ice. They got the shots very early on to 10-9 for LA, meaning that they had fired five to the Kings’ one.
The home team had a potential burst when the visitors took a penalty at about five gone for delay of game (shooting the puck into the crowd). Early on, they managed keep the puck nicely pinned in the Caps’ end. Their PP, in case you are mostly locked away from society except when you read this, is lurking around 17th in the league. But in the late going, Carter got a puck to the front of the net on a wrist shot that looked like it was deflected by Kopitar. It was announced as belonging to Carter, though. So you can either take that as it is, or add yet another goal to the tally above of Kopitar, Gaborik, and Iginla, who are, you might have guessed, playing as a line.
This marked a continued emergence of that still-middling-ranked PP, with this goal and the last one well later on the PP, which made nine power play goals in the past five games. What’s happened?
The score was 2-2 with the game approaching halfway and LA outshooting the Caps 12-9. Because they’re pros, surely the Washington team was neither dwelling on their failure in San Jose nor fearing their encounter with Anaheim. Right?
Well, they didn’t much look like it. In fact, they rang two shots off the post in pretty quick succession, the second convincingly enough that the NHL lit the goal light—which as we all know, means absolutely nothing these days. (Ah, for the good old days when the goal judge was in a cage back here, and he was consulted—ask Mickey Redmond about that, from about 1972). But the Kings then took the momentum back, controlling the puck in the zone. First Pearson burst in left side and got off a dangerous shot up high on the goalie. Then after play went the other way and the Ovechkin line (with Johansson and Kuznetsov) had their way for a shift, the Kings went back in the form of Brown slamming a shot into the goalie from close range.
It was an altogether better game than it had looked like it might turn out to be, in other words.
And along the way late in period two, those scoring stats were changed, as I predicted they would be: Kopitar was credited with the goal, giving him nine for the year and making him seem even more like he might be a force that pushes this team upwards in the last games of the season rather than continuing to move them sideways.
The Kings gave something back in the form of a holding penalty with 3:08 to go, odd in a way since Kuznetsov had followed Gaborik down the ice the whole way just prior, hooking him and ultimately stick-checking him as he tried to get off a shot on his breakaway.
Ovechkin got off one weak one-timer, the puck not being in his wheelhouse, and was butt-checked into the board by Doughty with about half the power play to go. Then the Caps let the Kings pin them in their own zone, and LA looked like it could actually survive the man advantage, which it did.
Then in the last minute, Kopitar took a puck to the net and across the crease. Iginla had just tried a carry-in. Gaborik was lurking. Was this monster alive again?
Period three would begin with the Kings having launched 17 shots and Washington 11. And it was a pretty easy bet to make that the Caps would come out firing the puck.
They didn’t, really. They ended with 19 shots, and they scored no more. The Kings, meanwhile, put in two. The last was empty net. But the third, the winner, was a beautiful play for a first career goal by Adrian Kempe. He peeled off the wall, stickhandled towards the net, beat a guy, and then fired a wrist shot. At the time, he didn’t know it had gone in, but it beat Grubauer and delighted the crowd, whose cheers were Kempe’s first indication, he later said, that it had gone in.
He was typically reserved about the goal, saying more about his team and their win that his part, at first. But then he got wound up. “The puck got rimmed. I got challenged their and rolled off the guy, then shot short side, and I think it went in off his glove, so that was good.” He added, “It was a really good feeling, the first one, and a big one, too, so that was an extra good feeling. I didn’t see it go in right away, but I saw someone in front start to celebrate.” He had been thinking about the first goal for a while. “I had a lot of chances, and I should have probably scored before this game.”
Sutter said afterwards, “Scored his first NHL goal, so I’m sure he feels really good now.” It didn’t get much longer than that.
And that leaves only the Caps, who are on a bit of a slide. Coach Trotz commented, “We hit a couple of posts there in the second period. We could have been up 4-2 but we come out 2-2, so. And then, uh, you know, they scored the third one. I thought it was a good game, pretty even game. We’ve got to score more. You can’t score two goals. We have to get to the net, shoot, all those type of things.”
He said that Ovechkin is also working hard despite being in a bit of a slump.
The room feels “awkward,” Trotz said, “and the only way you can fight through it is as a group. We’ll see if we can do that tomorrow. The great thing is, we get to find out if we get the right shift tomorrow.”