The Kings came into tonight’s game on a roll. Four straight wins. A first line that is one of the hottest in the league. Hard work from all four lines, a defense that has gelled and solid goaltending. Playing “their” game meant more of the same, especially a relentless forecheck, traffic in front of the net and good crisp passing from the defensive zone to the forwards. The Kings met a hot 5-1 New York Rangers team led by prized offseason tender groin acquisition Marian Gaborik.
The Kings couldn’t get out of their own way in the first. Raitis Ivanans took an undisciplined holding penalty. Vinny Prospal scored the powerplay goal. Kings de facto captain Ryan Smyth tied the game with a patented deflection on a point shot from Kings defenseman Davis Drewiske. Unfortunately, after back to back penalties by Peter Harrold for goalie interference and Matt Greene for a misguided trip, the Rangers received a two man advantage. Vinny Prospal scored his second goal of the game, one that was temporarily controversial because the referee blew the whistle and appeared to give the wash out signal. The video replay showed, and properly so, that it was a goal before the whistle.
The Kings knew what they had to do, or rather what not to do, the rest of the game. Stay the hell out of the box and play smarter hockey.
Dean Lombardi was interviewed between periods (likely a pre-game interview that was just shown later). He looked like he hadn’t slept in a few days but, as usual, was a good listen. He talked about the team’s unity and caring for one another during the offseason as well as how pleased he was that he was able to get not just two good players in Smyth and Scuderi but the “right” players that fit.
The Rangers scored quickly in the second period on a shot by former disgruntled King, Brian Boyle, that Erik Ersberg should want back. The soft wrist shot beat Ersberg clean, deflected off the post and in. Sean O’Donnell promptly got into a scrap with Ranger tough guy stand-in, Aaron Voros. The punch count was O’Donnell 16, Voros 3. At 16:02, Chris Higgins hooked Dustin Brown who was crashing the net and, absent said hook, would have had a clear shot on the door step against Lundqvist.
The Kings looked disorganized and hesitant at the beginning of the power play. A second power play ensued after Boyle landed in the box. The Kings set up some nice one-timers that they could not convert but the hard work was finally rewarded when Jack Johnson skated laterally from the corner to the center of the ice on the blue line and powered a wrister to the net that deflected off Kings center Michal Handzus’ high inside thigh (as every guy watching the replay cringed) and beat Lundqvist who had the “I never saw it” look.
The Kings continued their strong play. The forwards attacked the net nearly every shift. The sustained forecheck kept the Rangers on their heels who had nothing to offer but ice the puck. Marc Staal’s elbowing penalty put the Kings back on the powerplay. Alexander Frolov, in his flashes of brilliance we see once in a while and certainly not enough, did everything. Forecheck, hit, take the puck away, control the puck, and make a beautiful pass to Jared Stoll who promptly shanked it five feet wide. The Kings finished the second period similar to the first, down by one goal.
Entering the third, the Kings had the momentum, were outplaying New York and just needed to connect the passes better through the neutral and offensive zones. Unfortunately, all of that means little if the netminder cannot stop the puck. At just over the 15 minute mark, Marian Gaborik fired a wrist shot and beat Ersberg clean from a bad angle and without any traffic in front of the Kings’ goaltender. It was the second goal Ersberg gave up this game that he should have had. He showed tonight why he was and is number 2. But for the bad goal, the Kings owned the Rangers in the first half of the third period. The second half showed scrambling plays by both teams and the Kings fell victim to what had evaded them most of the night – good passing – and therefore could not capitalize on the time and space the Rangers seemed willing to give them.
The game ended 4-2 and Henrik Lundqvist deservedly received the number 1 star.
Nobody can look back at this game and state the Kings played poorly. They outshot the Rangers 36-21. They suffered from poor passing throughout the game, especially on the power play but, for the most part, they outplayed the Rangers. A few undisciplined penalties in the first cost them 2 goals. Poor goaltending throughout the game cost them the other 2.
The Kings faceoff against the struggling Detroit Red Wings tomorrow. The puck drops at 4:30pm PST.