It was a night of two debuts and a return as the Kings took on the Penguins in downtown Los Angeles Thursday. For LA, the game marked another chance to show what they can do after they upset the New York Rangers three nights prior. For Pittsburgh, it was the opportunity to bag another two SoCal points after rolling over the Ducks in dominating fashion on Tuesday.
On the Pittsburgh squad was Jeff Carter, who spent ten years playing with LA (2012-21) and has not been back since he was traded. Carter was supposed to be in the twilight of his career at that time. In fact, he had thought he’d play out the string in Los Angeles, perhaps retiring after the 2021 season. But he has found the same fountain of youth that Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby drink from in Pennsylvania, and currently has 11 goals and 20 points in 29 game for the Pens this year.
That was the return. For debuts, please note two. First, there was Samuel Fagemo, a Swede born in Goteborg in 2000. He was drafted 50thoverall, by the Kings, in 2019, a pick they had to move up to get.
On this night, he played alongside Arthur Kaliyev and Blake Lizotte, producing as shot on goal in about 11 minutes of playing time.
Rookies are great, but there was a more significant debut, and that occurred behind the Kings’ bench. With trainer Chris Kingsley out, Head Athletic Trainer of the Ontario Reign, Aisha Visram worked the game behind the LA bench, the first time a woman has done this in the NHL. In fact, the first time a woman has worked behind an NHL game in any capacity.
On the ice, the first period started fast for the Kings, swung to the Penguins, and came back to LA. The score after one was 1-1, which was representative of the play. The goal scorers were Kris Letang and Anze Kopitar, and other chances included a drop pass from Kopitar to Iafallo that was broken up and a pass to Maata coming in from the blueline which he rang off the left post. He shot from the hash marks, and was all alone in on net at the time. That wasn’t all. After each team had scored a goal, there was a flurry in front of Quick that needed a couple of good saves, and late in the period, a chance where Crosby snuck a puck off the boards to Ruhwedel, who shot from all alone in front. Quick waved a glove at it.
Period two started with about 90 seconds of remaining LA power play time, which yielded nothing. Play carried on to be as exciting as any game seen this year. Highlight breakaways, shots, and saves were everywhere.
Just a sampling included Kaliyev dropping a puck to Fagemo, who didn’t quite expect it but fired off a shot anyway, a bit off pace. Then Arvidsson passed the puck to Moore in front of the net all alone. He did a forehand-to-backhand switch and shot. Jarry made the save.
Crosby put a puck over to Rodrigues for a redirect. Quick did the classic sprawl-out save with the glove stacked over the pad and the puck ending up right there.
On a Kings’ mid-period power play, both Iafallo and Moore had good chances in close. Dustin Brown capitalized on the two-minute advantage and ended up putting one behind Jarry off a scrambly play at the goalie’s righthand side. This had been set up by Durzi’s nifty play to fool a guy at the blueline and fling the puck into the slot.
Letang put a puck to Crosby in the slot. He hit the crossbar; the puck may have glanced off Quick’s mask.
It’s never a good idea to take a penalty against a team as good as the Penguins, but if you’re gonna, you might as well turn it into a shorthanded breakaway extravaganza, which is what LA did. Twice in one shift, Blake Lizotte found himself bearing down on the goalie, along. Once, it was after Iafallo intercepted a pass and fed him as he entered the attacking zone. The second time, Kupari fed him and he put it past the left side of the net.
The period fittingly ended with Guentzel getting a mini-break in on the left side. Quick made the save, then lost the puck and plucked it off the goal line where it sat perfectly still. The score was 2-1 for LA.
The Penguins tied the game early in period three, Radim Zohorna taking a puck from the slot and putting it into the open left side of the net. So it was 2-2. It would hardly stay there.
The Kings exploded for three shots and three goals in 1:23. This after the Penguins had opened the period with four shots on goal in a row to LA’s none. Goal three was a slapshot from the blueline by Mikey Anderson. Goal four came off a long stretch pass to Moore, who cut toward the net and spotted Arvidsson coming late and on a diagonal to him, passed it over, and saw him bury it.
The fifth Kings’ goal was a puck thrown to the front by Sean Durzi from the blueline. Iafallo made a touch pass over to Kopitar. All the Captain had to do was stick his stick out, and the puck went in. Kopitar would later compliment the team for “a great team effort from top to bottom,” for the win. He said of the third-period outburst, “We didn’t quite expect to score three goals, but it sure feels good.”
The Kings got a further chance with the Penguins shorthanded at past the 7-minute mark. The fireworks had by this time gone out. The game wound down with the teams still trading some chances and Sean Durzi scoring a late goal. The Kings thus spoiled Carter’s return to town, as they would naturally want to do, and put themselves more solidly in their Divisional spot, which is third in the Pacific.
The Kings outshot Pittsburgh by a wide 45-29 margin.
The win made LA 5-2 on their home stand, which now ends. They visit Seattle for the first time on Saturday night in the first of a two-game road trip.
With his goal, Dustin Brown reached the 700-point mark.
The Kings gave Jeff Carter the expected video tribute in a TV timeout in the first period. In an interview yesterday, Carter expressed his friendship for many of the players he had been with while on the left coast.
For LA, the forward lines were much of what they’ve been, with the exception of Brendan Lemieux not being available and Fagemo coming in. The most visible line for LA was, as it ought to be, the first combo of Iafallo, Kempe, and Kopitar.