After a final two minutes that would have given a block of stone cardiac arrest, the Los Angeles Kings clawed and scratched and prayed to the hockey gods as they held on to a 2-1 lead against a St. Louis Blues’ team that showed up to the rink about 55 minutes too late.
The Kings played a strong game, and while the PP was not perfect, giving up a shorthanded goal to Alex Steen in the third period, the penalty kill was flawless. A matter of grave concern for all Kings’ fans leading up to this game, the Kings killed all five penalties they received. Justin William’s highly ill-timed and ever more unnecessary slashing penalty at 17:31 of the third forced the Kings to hold off a 6-4 attack for a full minute, causing heart attack in living rooms across the San Fernando Valley. If not for refreshingly strong defensive efforts and Jonathan Quick’s x-ray-like ability to see the puck through traffic, that penalty would have easily lost the Kings the game.
Uncharacteristically meager in the offense department, the Kings were able to win this one with a full team performance. Ryan Smyth kept up his goal per game pace with a power play goal in the first period, with Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar getting the assists. Doughty was of special interest, as he started to resembled more clearly the eight month younger version of himself. He made several of his trademark break-up plays in front of and behind Quick, and carried the puck in to the zone with authority many times. Doughty was forced to play with a special jaw shield after taking a puck to the mouth in the second period. The war wound he incurred was fitting, as Doughty played with a physical edge that we have only seen glimpses of throughout his short career.
The Kings second goal, which came in the second period, was delivered courtesy of Blue’s winger David Perron. With Michal Handzus breaking into the zone a step ahead the deepest Blue, Alex Frolov gliding to his right, Perron came barreling back to break-up the play, but instead tipped Handzus’ pass to Frolov past annoyed goalie Chris Mason.
Though he walks away with a loss, Chris Mason has every right to blame the Blue’s skaters for this one, as he had a very strong outing, stopping 24 of 26 shots. On the other end, Jonathan Quick, who stopped 29 of 30, made fantastic saves on Andy McDonald and Paul Kariya, among others, but tested luck a little more than he would like. Rebounds were again a problem, leading directly to Steen’s goal and many more that could have been, if not for Blue’s forwards who shot some of their best chances wide.
Coming into his own was Jack Johnson, who was highly impressive tonight. Johnson’s offensive instincts are coursing powerfully through his veins, and his physical nature is being forced upon those who dare try to cross him. T.J. Oshie learned this lesson the hard way when he flew across the blue line with speed and attempted a move around Johnson, who dominantly put Oshie on his hind quarters, snuffing any momentum the Blue’s prior penalty kill had generated. Johnson was pesky all night, giving many a Blue face-washes to remember.
This win was earned in every way by the Kings, who go back to their hotels tonight with more bumps and bruises than usual. Aside from Doughty’s busted lip, Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds both had to hobble off the ice after taking pucks to the legs, close enough to be the knee. Neither player missed a shift however, as the team showed strong signs of resilience.
Good coaching and leadership sparkled tonight. The leadership is clearly where it needs to be, and in that regard, I may owe Dustin Brown an apology for having ever questioned his role as Captain. Brown played a forceful game, and an unselfish one. He drew numerous penalties and banged bodies whenever possible. His offense is still coming around, but his play was as encouraging as it was intimidating. Even Teddy Purcell was digging hard, and Kopitar, often harped on to be more aggressive physically, was finishing his checks. To my astonished glee, he even pulled one Blue down by the cheek in an entertaining scrum.
The Kings have now won three games, in three different ways. Though the last two were flashier and more marketable by NHL standards, this win was to this writer, the most satisfying.
Last season, this game was a loss.
The Kings next go to the Island to face New York on Monday, the second game of this six game road trip, the longest of the season.