The Kings would be off a bit had they read their game versus Arizona as a must-win. More like a got-to-have. Sounds the same, but at this point in the season, less is at stake, despite two points counting the same no matter what time of the year they’re gained. But with three losses in a row and the weakest team in the league in town, there would be no excuse for LA not to win.
And yet they failed, by a 2-1 score in overtime. A marvellous performance by Arizona goaltender Karel Vejmelka made it happen. This is a goalie who came into the night leading the category any goalie would hate to lead: most goalie losses, with nine. His record was 0-9-1 with a 3.28 GAA and .897 save percentage.
The hockey was exciting. The first goal was lovely, though it took until period two for the Kings to score it. Blake Lizotte put a puck across the zone to Brendan Lemieux after an Arizona giveaway, a strip by Lizotte. Lemieux one-timed it from a knee up and over the netminder.
This happened at 5:38 of P2. The Coyotes would not respond with a goal of their own for quite some time.
Meanwhile, the chances that didn’t go were just as good. Brendan Lemieux was tripped going to the net and managed to get a deke backhand off that went to the net—and hit the post.
Viktor Arvidsson drove to the net left to right and was poke-checked by Vejmelka, in period one. In P2, a shot by Kaliyev squibbed to the net but forced a major adjustment on the part of the goalie to make the save due to its being off-speed. Lemieux was also crashing to the net at the time.
The saves by Vejmelka were outstanding. Example: Andreas Athanasiou got a breakaway, did a motorcycle kick and deke as he went in, and shot low. The keeper dropped his left pad to make it horizontal to the ice to make the save. In period two, Kaliyev got off a one-timer from the right side. Vejmelka jumped in front of it. Later Iafallo took a wrister from the left side, but the goalie somehow got there to block it.
Then there was Lizotte to Kaiiyev (you’re hearing those names a lot this night) for a wrister and a big glove save. The hit parade of saves continued to the end, though LA had a large lull in period three, where they got only one shot off in a 13-minute span.
The Kings wildly outshot the Coyotes from period one. The totals were squeezed a bit tighter by the final frame, when Arizona came on, looking like this: 12-8 for the Kings, 16-7 for the Kings, and 10-8 for Arizona. Totals thus were 38-27 in LA’s favor.
The third period was the chance for the Coyotes to tie it, and they did, at 4:44. That came in the form of Travis Boyd, who got a puck slid over by teammate Gostisbehere and redirected it past Jonathan Quick.
That forced an eventual OT, where the Coyotes thought they scored, and started to celebrate. They stopped playing, but the referee made the “safe” (no goal) sign. Kopitar took the puck to the other end on a breakaway. The buzzer went to halt things, because in fact, Kyle Capobianco’s shot had gone to the back of the Kings’ net.
So it was a point for the Kings, two for Arizona—not that that’s going to matter as the season goes on for Arizona, but the Kings, well, despite what I said at the start of this report, the point, or what would have been two points, would have mattered. Do matter. Did matter.
Matt Roy described the game after as a “more gritty and physical game [than yesterday versus Carolina]. He said of the OT, “Kind of a different game three-on-three. You’ve got to be a bit more patient, try to find the forwards and try to find a way to score,” which obviously did not happen.
His coach wasn’t quite so matter-of-fact. He identified the problem as “Open nets, opportunities there but no finish.”
Summarizing the past three, now four, games, all losses, McLellan said, “I thought we played really well in Winnipeg. The two top teams from out east we played very well. Tonight was a frustrating night because of the amount of chances that we created. We probably would be talking a different story if we had some finish, but we didn’t. Tonight’s a tough one to evaluate. The chances were there, so it’s disappointing.”
Vejmelka was drafted in the 2015 entry draft by Nashville, round five, 145th overall. He has played in the Czech Republic until this year.
The Kings are three games into a seven-game homestand. Their next contest is Wednesday, when Toronto rolls into town. For LA-based Kings fans, that’s going to be on TNT, not the usual channel.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.