The LA Kings had no choice but to win Monday night. They’d better do the same for the next three games, too—all of those, including Monday, against the Anaheim Ducks. The first of the four was in LA, and the Kings had on their purple retro sweaters adorned with gold trim.
The LA team featured a lineup from which Carl Grundstrom was missing and Brendan Lemieux was in. But more exciting—Quinton Byfield was recalled from the AHL and placed on the taxi squad. He is hoped and expected to play for the big club as the week goes on. LA came in having lost two and with a 3-7 record in their last ten games.
The Ducks had a lineup in which Adam Henrique was the most notable absence (Covid protocol due to a family member having been exposed). Sam Carrick, rugged AHLer, was back in. He last played versus San Jose on April 12. His do-it-all attitude is what the Ducks need after playing to four losses in a row and winning only three times in their last ten games, but they had one OT point. They thus had one more standings point over the period than had the Kings. Also back was Lundestrom, who had an appendectomy last week.
The first period was all Kings and two goals for LA. Both goals came from the defense, though not necessarily in zone setup situations. The first was standard set up, puck around to the Dman, slapshot. Sean Walker got the goal. The second was puck off the end boards to Mikey Anderson, backhand from the slot. It was almost a surprise that the puck came to him, but he made the best of it.
Anthony Stolarz was playing in net for the Ducks, with Miller backing up. John Gibson was on a total rest day. Jonathan Quick was in net for the Kings.
The second period opened with a Ducks’ goal, scored by Jamie Drysdale, his third of the year. He came late into the zone and got a pass back from Danton Heinen, waited and drifted in, teed up a slapshot, and saw it go in with Nick DesLauriers in front creating a distraction for starter Jonathan Quick.
DeLo, as they call DesLauriers, had also been instrumental in whatever mojo the Ducks did have in period one. He had a puck come to him in the slot in period one and took a one-timer that Quick made a spectacular save on, in a down-on-one-knee posture. Late in the period, DesLauriers created another chance, coming out of the corner and fighting his way to the net with the puck, seeing Quick make the save once again.
The second proceeded with no further scoring. The Kings ended a low-shots affair through two up 16-15 on the Ducks. They also were on a power play, starting with 24.4 seconds left. They would have been wise to be surprised at how it started—Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks stole a puck and lumbered down the ice on a breakaway near the right boards. He was mostly caught by Doughty as he got ready to release the puck.
The LA team, had they been watching the scoreboard, by this time would have seen that St. Louis had beaten Colorado, and San Jose was winning versus the Coyotes by a 4-2 score. The St. Louis game was the more important, as the win put the Blues at 50 points and in fourth in the Honda West. The San Jose score was actually a help, since Arizona would otherwise have solidified their fifth-place standing and moved up to 49 points.
The third period was thus crucial for the LA team, and important for the Ducks, too, if spoiler is your game. The Kings had over a minute and a half on the PP on fresh ice, and did absolutely nothing with it. Their PP is awful—as you would have seen had you watched while the whole team, save Athanasiou, stood at the Ducks’ blueline waiting while Athanasiou rushed the puck from his own blueline. At the time of this penalty, the Ducks had just taken over the shots lead, 17-16.
The game would eventually end with the Kings winning the shots contest 25-22 and the goals race 4-1, but it’s not what it looks like. The Kings scored two empty netters in the final minute and a half with Stolarz pulled.
Late in the going, there were a couple of moments when it seemed hopeful for the Ducks, as when Rakell took a nice spin shot that Quick positioned himself and had hit him. The Kings had their moment when Athanasiou got a pass on a two-on-one and forced a toe save—he didn’t get a lot on the shot. Then the Ducks again—first DesLauriers with a long wrister that went far side wide and then Heinen stole a puck and went in for a medium-length wrister and a glove save.
The rest was the aforementioned empty net tallies.
Ducks’ Coach Eakins was pretty happy with his team’s performance. “We were a little slow in the first period, but I thought out second period was much better. We were quick on pucks, faster to support, and throughout the third period as well.”
And also critical: “That’s a number of games in a row where we’ve only scored one goal. We’ve got to find ways to put the puck in the net.”
Coach McLellan of the Kings talked mostly about how his defense had been crucial in activating, and scoring. “The really good teams in the league right now are getting a lot of production from their blueline. . . . A goal like Walker’s, it’s a seeing eye one, and it goes in the net. I think a lot of the time you score on that crap in and around the net when the D do take the shot, so as we move forward and we continue to evolve, offense has to come from the blueline as much as it does from the forwards.”
As mentioned off the top, the teams play again on Wednesday, again in LA, before decamping for Anaheim for two weekend games, Friday and Saturday.
The Kings are now 14-4 when scoring first.
Byfield will be at NHL practice on Tuesday. No sure word when he’ll be in an NHL game, but it’s immanent. He has 20 points in the AHL, as an 18 year-old.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and a credentialed NHL media member.