A month ago, Los Angeles losing to the Washington Capitals in a tight 2-goal game (the second of which was an empty netter) would have provoked a mild reaction. “Oh, that’s too bad, but, you know, the Kings . . . .” As the voice trailed off, it would signal the fading of hope.
But that’s not true now, and a 2-0 loss with the winning goal scored with just less than four minutes to go looks like a lost opportunity.
Notice the language. “Lost” is not “squandered,” because neither team gave an inch in a scoreless game that almost went the distance that way. Along the way, LA fans saw two Ovechkin one-timers, the famous one off the left dot. They should store those away in memory, especially since neither yielded a goal.
They saw a lot of great goaltending from both sides, with the more acrobatic keeper being Jonathan Quick, who looks as rejuvenated in the LA net as, down the road, Ryan Getzlaf looks on the Anaheim ice. The shots totals were 38 Washington, 34 Los Angeles, and Ilya Samsonov picked up the shutout in the Washington net.
For the Kings, the loss snapped an eight-game points streak, a record of 7-0-1. For Washington, the win came with a raft of lost players. Four were out with injuries—Backstrom, Oshie, Dowd, and Mantha. One was in Covid protocol. The Caps, too, have been on a tear of late, with now a 6-2-2 record over the last ten games.
For LA, Viktor Arvidsson was back, playing on the first line with Brown and Kopitar. He had been in Covid timeout since October 30th. This meant that Adrian Kempe was dropped to the third line to play with Rasmus Kupari and Trevor Moore. The club was clear to say that this was not a demotion and to cite Kempe’s flexibility as an important aspect of his contribution to the team.
For Washington, who did the scoring? None of the names you’re expecting to hear. In fact, only one name: Garnet Hathaway, with both the winner and the empty net late tally. These were his fourth and fifth goals of the season, all scored within a week.
The teams played a clean game, with two power plays for Washington and one for the Kings.
After the game, Coach Todd McLellan of LA was upbeat, as he should have been given the nature of the game. “This was certainly a tight game. It felt playoff-ish where there wasn’t really any space either way.”
He continued: “We had some opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on. We tried to make an extra pass, and they’re a really tight-checking team. At the end of the night you felt like it was . . . going to be one goal, and that’s what they did–they put it off a skate and it went in.”
He credited his team for checking, noting that they kept some exceptional players muted as to scoring. But he also offered the obvious cliché in saying that they (his team) had to score at least one to win.
The Kings were wearing a Gretzky-era-style sweater with white gloves. You might know there’s a famous story about Gretzky’s own white gloves (see my book Living the Hockey Dream to get that firsthand). But what was shocking was their helmets. Shiny silver, like they’d been bedazzled by Jimmie Johnson himself (that’s one for you, IndyCar fans). They reflected the white of the ice on the bottom and sparkled on top. Golden Knights, look out—someone is co-opting your look.
Here are a couple of other game highlights: Trevor Moore banged the crossbar in period two. Play halted for a moment—Samsonov was lying on the ice and he, and others, seem to have thought the puck went in.
The second period saw the Kings put on a flurry of shots, from one side of the ice and then the other. Kopitar got a pass to Arvidsson away, but it was partially broken up.
Nick Clague took the puck and wheeled it all around the Washington zone.
In period three, the Caps did a wraparound and Quick made a beautiful and acrobatic dive from one side of the net to cover it. He later made a great blocker save on one of the aforementioned one-timers. Evgeny Kuznetzov was dangerous after that, shooting low for the open far side of the net—arm save—and then low to the right side, and Quick made a glove/leg save.
The Kings’ Kaliyev had a couple of chances right near the end of the game, one coming out from behind the net, turning, and throwing the puck back on net. He later had a good chance in close. These two chances were split by the Washington goal that won it.
So very little scoring resulted in an exciting game nonetheless. The winning goal itself was a puck flung from the blueline and tipped in front by Hathaway. Carlson and Kuznetzov assisted. Carlson also had the assist on the empty net finishing goal.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
You might really like the book mentioned above, Living the Hockey Dream. Everyone from Marcel to Dionne to Bobby Hull to Wayne Gretzky was interviewed about their hockey childhood.