The New York Rangers came to LA Monday night with the chance to become the league’s point-leading team. Their opponents, the Kings, merely hoped to vault themselves out of a Wild Card spot and into their Division’s top three teams.
The Rangers would have to do it without their coach, Gerard Gallant, who was out due to Covid protocol. In his place was the head guy of the New York AHL affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack, Kris Knoblauch. He is a long-ago Islanders’ draft pick who didn’t make the NHL as a player.
The Rangers were glad to be welcoming Artemi Panarin back from Covid protocol, his 36 points (ten goals) very much needed if the Rangers were to win. He would end the night frustrated, with no points in lots of playing time—19:57.
Meanwhile the Kings would be without Martin Frk, who had a goal in two games this year but had just started to make a way for himself in the deep Kings’ lineup and was getting power play time.
In what was perhaps a side note, Brendan Lemieux was facing his former team for the first time since he left them.
The goaltenders on the night were Cal Petersen, his second start in a row, and Alexandar Georgiev.
The Kings came in on a bit of a hot streak, going 8-4-1 in their prior 13 games. The Rangers had won three of their four games since the start of the new year.
Things started with a bang. Actually two—one on each end of the ice. First the Kings’ Arvidsson drove the net and missed. Then Alexis Lafreniere got a puck across the Kings’ slot to Ryan Strome and forced Cal Petersen to come exploding from his right to left with a desperate splayed-out splits, making the save. This was prior to the half-minute mark being much gone.
The Rangers took an early penalty, and their kill, fourth best in the league, did its thing, until Sean Durzi created all kinds of havoc in the second minute of the man advantage. The best chance was when he shot low and soft to get Trevor Moore involved by way of whacking at the rebound. No goal.
The Kings ended the first with two chances where Kaliyev passed on a diagonal to Dustin Brown. The first was a miss; the second produced a shot. Exciting stuff when the puck comes in on a rope like that.
It was a portent of things to come. Many of the chances on either side were of the type that the puck came over from one side or the other to a player slashing in on net. The goalies were forced to deal. They did. There was no scoring in period one.
Period two changed that, fast. The Kings got two goals within the first four minutes. Much of the best action in the game, in fact, was in evidence in period two, which produced a ton of interesting chances.
The Kings’ first goal came off of a Moore to Danault connection when Moore poked a puck free and took off for the net. He got off a shot and Danault came in for the rebound. That was his third goal in the last four games he’s played. Add that to his fight with Larkin against the Red Wings a couple of nights ago, and he’s had quite a week.
The second goal again came off a turnover. Moore went down the right side and chipped the puck to the net. The goalie couldn’t handle it high off his chest, and it dropped in front of him. Blake Lizotte crashed the net and saw it go off his skate and then his stick and into the empty side of the cage.
The Coach explained Moore’s performance after the game. “I think his start we have some responsibility for his lack of production, the coaching staff, because we played him everywhere. He was a center. He as a left wing. He was a right wing. He was on the top line. He was on the fourth line. He’s found a home there now on that Danault line, and he’s feeling comfortable now. They complement each other well, and he’s got some confidence. We’ve rewarded him with some power play time, on that second unit, so he feels even better about himself, and . . . finding a home on a line has been good for him . . . but he was the one guy we trusted to do that.”
Moore has seven points in his last four contests. He said after that he was “playing with some good linemates, obviously.” He later commented that he was finding good chemistry with Arvidsson, knowing what he would do in certain circumstances, and the same with Danault.
The Kings had another dangerous chance on a power play late in the period, but there was no further scoring in the middle twenty minutes.
The Rangers got one back with 11:27 gone in the third period when Zibanejad made a subtle redirect right in front of Petersen. The Kings then had an empty netter late. Kopitar had tried for a long pass and iced the puck. Then Kempe flung a puck out of his own end from the slot and ended up scoring a 185-foot goal.
The Kings outshot the Rangers 39-23. “It was a big game for us to show that we can play with top teams in the league for sure,” was Moore’s way of summarizing the night for the LA side.
Coach McLellan explained the win as a product of, “Structure, playing to an identity. I think it’s quite apparent that when we don’t do that, we’re chasing games. When we do it, we have a chance. It doesn’t matter who we play against, we have a chance, and the guys are believing it now.”
Dustin Brown played in his 1265th game, putting him eighth on the list of American-born players. He has 699 career points. He next ties, then knocks off, Brett Hull for seventh at 1269 games played.
The Kings have a goaltending question to answer before they play the Penguins at home on Thursday. Which hot goalie should they use? Tough problem to have, eh?
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.