Kopitar to Smyth. Smyth to Kopitar.
The Los Angeles Kings’ wiped the ice with the Minnesota Wild tonight, doubling up on goals with a 6-3 win at Staples Center for the final game before a six game road trip. The Kings’ first line of Ryan Smyth, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams made a clean sweep on the 3 stars of the game as each player registered 3 points in the satisfying victory. Smyth earned the first star with a 2 goal performance.
“It’s a good mix right now, and things are going good right now,” Smyth said after the game.
‘Good’ does not begin to describe the palpable chemistry developing before our eyes on the first line. Smyth has helped to evoke the player fans have been clamoring for since the first time we laid eyes on Kopitar, one that drives to the net and wants to score on every shift. He nearly did.
The first goal of the game came just over a minute in to the contest, and from then on, the tone was set. This was the Kings’ game to win.
Since you probably are not a Kings fan without access to a TV, I will spare you the vivid descriptions of the goals, which were just too perfect to be done justice in typeface. What I will tell, is that the Kings did all the little things right.
With a rested and eager Sean O’Donnell in the line-up, the Kings defense was demonstrably calmer, keeping the passes short and chipping the puck off the boards with consistent precision. Even Jack Johnson looked like he knew how to play defense.
One play that sticks out came about halfway through the opening period. The Kings were up 2-0 off deflection goals by Smyth and Williams, and the Wild were anxious to suck the momentum out of the building. The puck was dumped in behind the Kings goaltender, and took an errant bounce of the boards, shooting high up in to the air and targeted to land directly in front of the Kings net with a Wild player licking his lips at the goal mouth. Looking like an old pro, Davis Drewiske channeled his inner soccer player and chest-bumped the puck out of mid air to a safe area behind the net and calmly passed the puck around the boards. A little play, but an important one.
These types of plays were made regularly by every King. The penalty kill might not have been much better, going just 2 for 4, doubling the 0 for 4 effort against the Sharks, but this game was won on poised defense and a tenacious transition game. Anyone who thought a Terry Murray coached team could not explode offensively was just not used the damage a team that is always crashing the net can wreak.
The only thing missing from this game was announcer David Courtney, who had better things to do announcing the Angels’ playoff game in Anaheim. That’s right, I mentioned baseball. I promise it will be the last time.
To float back down from cloud 9 for a moment, the two Kings’ players who were only average in this game were Matt Greene and Jonathan Quick.
Greene did not play poorly, but gave up a few heart thumping chances, usually the result of playing slightly too high away from the crease. He may be susceptible to back-door plays but luckily, Quick is not. Quick, who allowed 3 goals on 29 shots, was sharp on first opportunities, but struggled controlling rebounds. After the abortion of a home opener against Phoenix, Quick was called out by Terry Murray for being slightly over-zealous in his positioning. Tonight, Quick’s positioning was solid and steady, however the zeal coursing through his athletic veins seeped through in his redirecting of rebounds, the Wild’s second and third goals being shot into wide open nets as the direct result of such vigorous deflecting.
Quick, however, did make several remarkable saves, showing his post to post speed as he committed grand larceny on several Wild skaters, the best of which coming in the 2nd period against Martin Havlat during a two on one break for the losing team.
The other goals scorers for the Kings were deservedly, Teddy Purcell, who played as strong a forechecking game as he ever has at this level, and Michal Handzus, who showed why his middle name should be ‘back check.’
Another aspect of the game that stood out was the limited ice time coach Murray allotted to the 4th line of Raitis Ivanans, Brad Richardson and Peter Harrold. I counted 7 shifts throughout the entire game, two of which lacked Ivanans who was replaced by Smyth towards the end of the game. Richardson and Harrold clocked in at just under 5 minutes TOI, while Ivanans had less than 3. While none of them played poor games, their low ice time was truly a testament to the top three lines all performing their jobs at the highest level.
While the top line was flying all over the place, the 2nd line of Teddy Purcell, Jarrett Stoll and Dustin Brown cycled the puck with authority, while the checking line of Alex Frolov, Handzus and Wayne Simmonds made sure the neutral zone was lined with mud for the Wild every time they were on the ice.
There was a bit of nervous time for the Kings towards the end of the second period and the beginning of the third, as the Wild nearly erased the Kings’ 3 goal lead on Kim Johnnson’s goal just over 6 minutes in to the final period which cut the Kings’ lead down to one. Said tension was short lived, as Purcell’s goal, which came just four minutes later off a slick pass from Stoll, gave the Kings all the breathing room they needed. Smyth sealed the Wild’s coffin 36 seconds later with his second goal of the game.
There is so much more that could be said about this strong outing by the Kings, but the best thing I can say is simply,
Go Kings Go!