The Blues should have been playing the Kings for the second of a two-game set Wednesday night, but for snow. Snow? LA? This sounds like a “dog ate my homework” excuse. Well, according to the local freebie paper in the LA-area city where I live, there was once snow here. In something like 1943. But this wasn’t that. The problem was that after losing two games to Colorado, the Kings could not escape the Mile-High City. They were snowed in to Denver.
So the first of two tilts versus the Blues in LA was called off for now. That left Wednesday’s contest at Staples Center, the seventh this year for the two clubs. To date, the mighty Blues have been rather flat, with just two wins, one in OT, to show for the games. That means that of a possible 14 points against St. Louis, the Kings have 11, with 5 wins and one OT loss.
Wednesday night, the Kings stormed out to a 3-0 lead, the third goal coming at 14:11 of the first period.
The first goal had come at 3:21. It was not to be the winner, ultimately, since the Blues put one past Cal Petersen at 16:29 of the middle period. The winning goal, the Kings’ second, was scored by Carl Grundstrom, his fourth of the year. The insurance marker, if you will, was by Trevor Moore.
The Kings don’t often rocket out to a powerful early lead, and when they do, they don’t always hold it. But for the Blues, after the three first-period tallies by LA, things didn’t get better, because while the Kings did not score again until an empty netter late (18:20 of the third), neither did the need to. Instead, they shut things down, albeit with the occasional scoring chance thrown in to an excellent defensive stand.
The Blues took their goalie out at 3:45 to go (what would Toe Blake have thought of that?), but that was a no-go. They allowed the aforementioned ENG (cool-people speak for empty net goal). LA had opened a 7-0 shots advantage in the first period, the seventh being their second goal. They would eventually prevail in that department 24-20.
The Kings were missing Dustin Brown, who is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. In his absence, the first line was Kempe playing with Iafallo with Kopitar at center.
Also noticeable all night long was the line of Carter with Athanasiou and Vilardi. They’re fast, and fearless, if you take Athanasiou’s fight with Tory Krug as an example. It wasn’t a rock-em, sock-em affair, but it was not two middleweights wrestling and hoping for a five-minute major to pad their stats and give them bragging rights to the grandkids some day. It was an honest tussle.
Down the Kings’ lineup, Matt Luff, Blake Lizotte, and Austin Wagner notched about ten minutes each, including late. But the real surprise was what is likely best called the third line. Trevor Moore tied for the team lead in shots, with three (Carter, Kopitar). Grundstrom and Anderson-Dolan were his linemates, and Todd McLellan was very happy with what he saw out of them.
The coach said after, speaking about A-D primarily, “I think sometimes things work with combinations of players. I thought Grundstrom played one of his better games in a long time tonight. Mooresy played quite well. They complement each other. They seem to be, they have a tenacity yet a calmness to them that allows them to keep plays alive in the offensive zone; they’re all three of them fairly well conditioned, so they can extend shifts a little bit, and it’s just working for them right now. JAD[Anderson-Dolan] is a real important piece there. They get some somefidence when he goes back with them, so we’ll ride that line for as long as we possibly can.”
On defense, the indefatigable Mikey Anderson was second on the team in ice time with 21:43. Drew Doughty, who normally leads the team, and often the league, had 25:33. Four minutes more than the second guy!
The Kings continue to hope for a playoff spot, and they’re sitting fifth in the Honda West with about the same number of games played as the teams around them. They have 30 points, but perhaps more crucially, a +4 in goals for-against. The top three teams in the West are all more than +20, but the Blues, now in fourth directly ahead of the LA squad, are at -7. Lowly Anaheim is at -36. Only Ottawa and Buffalo are worse in the league.
The scoring in the game is telling: the goal-getters included Kopitar (empty net, still counts on the lifetime stats), Doughty, Grundstrom, and Moore. Kopitar now has an astonishing 26 assists. Doughty got a helper on the final goal. Anderson-Dolan had two assists.
After the game, Coach McLellan explained how his team has taken down this squad, which everyone figured as one of the top teams in the West: “I think that we respect them [Blues] enough that we really rise to the occasion. We have checked well against this team. Our special teams seem to get us one more than they get a night, which really helps, and we’ve got outstanding goaltending in all the matches that we’ve played against them.” Pretty much covered it all.
Brian Kennedy is a credentialed NHL media member and a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. He is reporting from his SoCal home using team- and NHL-supplied media.