Most nights, hockey makes sense. The better team gets the better chances, because they generate them. The weaker team hopes to pull off a miracle. Sometimes they do it. Fans go home happy when their team is the one who does the latter. That was the LA Kings peeps on Saturday night.
The Kings had the Jets in town, riding a string of 10 wins and one OT point in the last 13 games, including a thorough dismantling of the Ducks at 1pm on Friday afternoon in Anaheim. LA themselves had played last on Friday as well, losing in San Jose, also at 1pm. Their recent record was not as impressive as the Jets’, with three wins back in mid-November being the recent highlight. In their last six games, the ones played since then, they have two wins and an OT loss.
The Kings have had terrible luck keeping the puck out of their own net, allowing 20 more goals than they have scored. The goals-for number is equally dismal, trailing everyone in the West by at least three coming into the evening Saturday.
And so, of course, the LA team scored two beautiful goals in the first period, kept the Jets from getting any of their own, and thoroughly dominated on the ice and in the stats. The Kings shot 19 pucks at Laurent Brossoit and saw just six come in on Jack Campbell. The shot attempts were even more lopsided, with nine for the Jets and 36 for the Kings.
That stat can be misleading, but not in this case. The Kings held the puck the whole time, and the only excitement in their zone was when Blake Lizotte first carried it out from behind the net and veered dangerously towards his goalie, drawing an OOOH from the crowd, and then later made a lazy cycle-type clear around the net which got intercepted. Film will correct that tomorrow, no doubt.
Despite two nice goals—a slapshot from Joakim Ryan that blew past a kneeling Brossoit and a play where the goalie was on his knees again and seemed unaware of where the puck was, allowing Nikolai Prokhorkin to sweep all the way in from the high slot and whack it past him—the best actual play of the period was a multi-pass display where the Kings worked the puck all over the zone.
Now you’ve heard that before. What they usually do in these cases is pass until they lose the puck. This time, they passed until the goalie was almost bamboozled by the motion. Brown took the puck the short distance to the net and put it off the goalie’s head. If they had scored, you would have seen this play on replay for days.
The second period highlights including Brown shooting a wrister on net for a rebound with Iafallo there for the rebound. Doughty went towards the net but passed the puck away.
But here’s the telling one, for the Jets: a shot-pass through a diagonal seam went to Kopitar, who walked right to the net with it, nobody challenging him. He took a little backhand that wasn’t high enough—it hit the goalie’s pad, where it should have gone over. But that’s not the point: where was the Jets’ defense?
The Kings survived two penalties in a row through the middle of P2, with the first, to Carter, one of the best you’ll see, a hook to prevent a goal on a guy going right to the net. The Jets did nothing with the extra player. They came into the night with the 23rdbest PP in the league. The Kings had a weak PK, 27th most effective, but they held, eventually defending three penalties against. The Jets took no PIMs all night.
The Jets asserted themselves some after the PP, and they got another one shortly after on a Trevor Lewis hook. The balance of the period was mostly controlled by the Jets. By the end of the frame, they had gotten the shots to 27-21, still in favor of LA. The shot attempts were 50-42 for LA, a considerable improvement on the part of the Jets from the end of twenty minutes.
In the Kings’ net, meanwhile, Jack Campbell was flopping and flying all over the place. I’m not sure if this resembles his every-night play, though I’m pretty sure not. Maybe he just felt extra pressure to do it all. The team in front of him was certainly making that necessito. He also allowed some fat rebounds, though often directed to the corners on long shots. His most awkward save was on a puck that came quickly out of the corner to Jack Roslovic and was snapped on net. But he made up for that one with a nice glove save up by his head late in the period on a shot labelled from the high right slot.
The Kings exited P2 with the same 2-0 lead as at the end of P1, but the Jets were coming on. The Kings didn’t help themselves with a sloppy penalty, a shoulder grab right in front of the ref, by Sean Walker, as the third period started.
By this time, the Jets were playing their nine best forwards. LA rolled four lines most of the night, as indicated by their coach after the game. The only Kings’ lineup change at forward was that Matt Luff was scratched and Prokhorkin was in. On defense, Paul LaDue was in and Kurtis MacDermid out. Prokhorkin played in the center spot on the fourth line with Clifford on his left and Lewis on the right. Lewis was in his third game back from injury. He is known as a center.
Period three saw the Jets move radically forward again with the shots in the end being 34-34 and the shot attempts 62 Winnipeg and 64 LA. The Jets scored their lone goal with 4:18 gone in the third, Roslovic unguarded at the left side of the net putting in a rebound. As the period went on, they pressed, Kyle Connor taking one big rush and getting almost all the way to the net.
The Winnipeg goalie came out late, about 1:05 to go, and Scheifele had the chance to tie with under five seconds left. He found himself alone in the slot with the puck. He did a couple of slow dekes when a shot high to the glove side would have been better.
He put a soft backhand into Campbell, who made the stop. The clock wound down. After the game, LA Coach McLellan said that this play had come on a trip, which he said they could not have protested. Good thing that was unnecessary.
The Kings now head to Anaheim for a Monday evening contest, and they are home Wednesday for Washington. Much of the next two months, they spend on the road.
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