What’s doing with the LA Kings these days? They had two weeks off surrounding the All-Star game and by-week, and it was thought that they’d come back flat. Not good when the opponent to open the remainder of their season was the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were coming off putting a 6-3 smackdown put on the Anaheim Ducks Friday and playing in LA the next night.
In fact, the Kings came out and steadily dismantled the vaunted Penguins, whose best burst of life was in their attempt to break goalie Pheonix Copley’s shutout in the last minute of the game. He stopped 25 shots in total, some near the end dangerous. This was Copley’s second career shutout. He has played 53 games thus far. The Kings won 6-0.
Copley would enter Monday night’s game versus the Buffalo Sabres with a record of 16-3-1 in 21 games for the Kings this year. Jonathan Quick is backing him up, but that’s about all he’s doing. Coach McLellan is riding the hot hand of Copley most nights. The Kings recently extended Copley for a year at a million and a half bucks. What a bargain compared to Quick and now-AHL dweller Cal Petersen, who are in the five-million-dollar department.
Along the way versus Pittsburgh, Adrian Kempe scored four goals—the guys at the Puck Podcast have long called this a “pants trick,” but there were no trousers on the ice after goal number four, just some hats that had not been surrendered after the third goal. This was labelled a “natural” four goals—hockey-speak for four in a row with none from anyone else intervening in between. Kempe said that that was interesting to know, but that it didn’t make any difference to him, and that he wouldn’t have thought of it had the media not asked.
Kempe backed that performance up with a shorthanded goal versus Buffalo on Monday, the team’s first of the night, notched about midway in period two, and an assist. He thus is sitting on 27-15-42 points. He’s still behind Kevin Fiala with 55 and Anze Kopitar with 46.
The Kings would score their second goal against the Sabres on so-called “special teams” too—a Kaliyev marker just off the faceoff to start a too-many-men power play. They added another PPG later (Arvidsson) and gave up a PPG to Buffalo. Thus far on the season (coming into the Buffalo game), the team ranks seventh with the extra player, and 27th when shorthanded. The two numbers add up to approximately 100, as Scotty Bowman has said they ought to. However, the team is killing only three of four PPs against. Eighty percent is the benchmark. The Kings ended up defeating the Sabres 5-2.
That doesn’t mean their coach, Todd McLellan, was entirely happy: “We’re happy to put the points in the bank, but I thought the two games were opposite, really, in terms of details. We got away with a lot of stuff tonight. I know you’re supposed to appreciate and enjoy wins, but I wasn’t overly impressed with our team tonight.”
Until late in the going, Copley was well on track for his second shutout in a row, but a puck went off the end of the stick of Dylan Cozens coming to the net and eluded the goalie, as those off-speed bloopers sometimes do. He allowed a second on a redirect of a diagonal pass that he had no chance on. This did nothing to take away from a commanding performance by the netminder, who bounced back right after the first goal with a stretching pad save off the stick of Rasmus Kupari.
Entering the week that is—Valentine’s Day week, let’s be clear—the Kings vs. Buffalo marked the team’s 55th game. They stood first in the wildcard race out West, and tied with Edmonton in points. But after winning Monday and with the teams around them idle, they vaulted themselves into second in the Pacific.
Interesting note by McLellan after the Buffalo game: “You know what? After 54 games last year, our record was exactly the same. We were 29-18-7 . . . . I looked at it today. We lost game 55, I think in Dallas . . . . Today we won, so maybe we’re a game ahead of where we were last year.”
Of note in their lineup is that Quinton Byfield found himself playing on the first line with Kopitar at center and Kempe on right wing. Byfield has played just under half the team’s games thus far, with 2-9-11 points after adding an assist versus the Sabres to his total.
In other news, and you’ve likely seen this in other Inside Hockey coverage of the Kings this week, the team had a night to retire Dustin Brown’s number and unveil a statue for him. More like, to commemorate the team’s first Cup in 2012, but Brown, after all, is the one in bronze who’s lifting that trophy, because he was the one who did it in real life.
The ceremony was moving and memorable, with Brown recognizing and thanking people who helped him on his way up and while with the Kings. These speeches can often devolve into cliché, but that didn’t happen here. Brown showed himself an articulate and able public speaker, leaving fans to wonder—where’s his off-ice career going to go? He doubled down on his comments, and was very insightful, when he spoke to the media between periods one and two. More on that in another story at IH.
The Kings recalled defenseman Tobie Bisson from Ontario of the AHL. Bisson is yet to make an NHL debut. The team also lent Jacob Movarare to Ontario.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) and the author of Growing Up Hockey and a handful of other books.