You’d be forgiven if you thought the LA Kings were mixed up as their game versus the Vegas Golden Knights began. They were without one of their core, Jeff Carter, for the second game. That could have meant that management had given up on this year and decided to maximize return on an expiring contract. But then look at the standings—both Arizona and the Blues lost Wednesday. That meant that LA was six points out of the playoffs entering their game, a 7pm Pacific start. Win, and it would be four. That’s not just mathematical possibility. That’s hope.
Jonathan Quick did what he could early on to make sure that didn’t happen. He was beaten three times in period one on his way to getting pulled in a bad-worse-worst sort of scenario.
The first goal was a good shot by Tomas Nosek on the rush from the right dot. He fooled Quick by holding so long, and the keeper had no choice but to also defend against a pass, since it was a two-on-one. The second was a similar shot by Alex Tuch, only this time, no decoy, and the pull-and-drag move Tuch did with the puck was only slightly deceptive. Quick just missed it short side glove.
The third one was a dump-in from inside the blueline, scored after the Kings had narrowed the game to 2-1. The puck on the Vegas goal bounced against the grain and went off Quick’s pad and in. That was enough for the coach, who put Cal Petersen in at that point.
Was hope gone for a win that would close the race in the West? (Excuse me, the Honda West.) Monday with these same Golden Knights in town, the Kings had ventured a 2-0 lead before being closed on with four goals. The only conclusion one could draw was that the Kings, all good intentions notwithstanding, just couldn’t skate with these guys. That’s a lesson best forgotten, of course. That 3-1 first period Vegas lead wasn’t helping make the point that the Kings had so forgotten.
Period two saw the Kings fall one further behind before Trevor Moore got one back by scoring his second goal of the game. Both goals, the one by Vegas and the one by LA, were similar. In the first, defenseman Whitecloud flipped a puck up in the air out of the zone. Pacioretty fed it to a hole at center, and Chandler Stephenson skated onto it and went right in on net and shot it where the goalie wasn’t.
Moore’s came when Kempe spotted him from the Kings’ zone and fed him at the opposite blueline. He skated in and snapped a wrister low to beat Fleury.
There was hope that the Kings could sustain and build on this. They entered period three with early pressure. It might have been 4-3 when Kurtis MacDermid hit the post on a long wrister from the point with a screen in front. But as happens so often with a better and weaker team, though there were flurries of action and traded chances, the Vegas team ended up piling on two more goals.
The game went to 6-2 in a way that kind of typified the goofball nature of at least half of Vegas’s goals. Pietrangelo shot from the point and it hit Brendan Lemieux’s stick and fluttered, half-speed, up and over the shoulder of Petersen. He didn’t read the change of speed, and didn’t get a glove up for it.
The game ended with the shots 32-23 and the goals 6-2, obviously both for Vegas. The Kings thus lost their chance to erase some of their deficit, now six points in the playoff race for fourth place (and with Arizona and San Jose in the way in fifth and sixth in any case).
Would things have been different but for the early bad goals? Maybe. Or maybe the bus just rolls on, and those under the wheels can’t do anything about it. Coach McLellan said essentially that as he listed off a litany of the excellence that is the Vegas team.
McLellan said that his team has so many things to fix and so little time, and when asked for specifics, he started with the power play, then went to this: “The puck migration. Us as five guys skating to the puck in one area, then skating to the puck in another area . . . . We have no awareness of what’s going on around us now. Some of the players who weren’t doing that before are doing it, and we have to find a way to fix it.” Some of you with little kids in soccer might know this as “the beehive.”
Asked about the feelings in the room and around the team, McLellan said, “I can’t lie to you guys. We need a little bit of an adjustment . . . . We may not win as many games as we want, but first of all, bring the effort.” He said, without mentioning the departed Jeff Carter, that new players come and go and that teams have to get used to that idea.
Meanwhile in Northern California, the Ducks were featuring deadline pickup Haydn Fleury, and they got out to an early lead in the form of a Ryan Getzlaf goal off a tight-in feed by Troy Terry. They kept at the Sharks and eventually won 4-1 despite having a goal overturned for goalie interference. The game got interestingly nasty near the end, with fights and scrums happening on most whistles as time wound down.
The Kings now play two games in Colorado versus the Avalanche. The Ducks play the same two days, Friday and Sunday, versus Las Vegas in Anaheim.
Brian Kennedy is a member in the Professional Hockey Writers Association and a credentialed NHL media member.