It’s deviance unmercifully inflicts terror upon a fan base.
Tonight, the Los Angeles Kings gave superstition a big middle finger as they held on until the dying seconds to fend off the Phoenix Coyotes in a hard fought 5-3 victory. A truly bipolar game, the game ebbed and flowed between the two teams throughout each period.
The Coyotes controlled most of the play in the first period. Raitis Ivanans was on the positive side of a penalty call for the first time in his career, but the Kings failed to generate any steam on the ensuing power play. Superstition took hold when Alexander Frolov took a penalty immediately as soon as the power play ended. After a minute and a half of constant control by the Desert Dogs, Shane Doan scored a goal off a rebound to put his team up 1-0. The opening period, while not too poorly played, evoked a familiar prescience of disaster. A failed powerplay. An untimely penalty. A King-killer with a taste of blood.
The second period was a very exciting incessant pull and tug between the two teams, neither willing to give an inch. The Kings came out fairly flat, but capitalized on a power play when Anze Kopitar finessed a goal-mouth pass to Dustin Brown who promptly fired the puck into the empty net. A flurry of penalties followed that saw the Kings with two separate two-man advantages inside of a minute. During the second, longer power play Kopitar sent his second beautiful pass of the night across the ice to Jarret Stoll, who potted his first goal of the season. The cloud of superstition began to dissipate until Radim Vrbata (who is following too closely in Shane Doan’s footsteps) tied the game on a broken play only 1:18 after Stoll’s goal to end the second period in a 2-2 tie. Vrbata now has four goals on the season. He had two against the Kings opening night. I don’t like that.
The clouds regathered and began to darken, but then the Kings did something different.
The Kings came out in the third determined to cast all fantasized beliefs aside and played the polar opposite of the third period against Dallas. 2:16 into the final frame, Scott Parse made the most of his NHL debut as he drove down the right wing, faked a shot and slid a perfect pass to a streaking Stoll. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov panicked when Stoll cut sharply to middle and put a backhand shot in the net for his second goal (and the season) of the game to give the Kings a 3-2 lead.
After killing a penalty taken by Matt Greene for uppercutting Paul Bissonnette, the Kings first line went to work. They dominated down low for entire shifts until Wayne Simmonds gathered a rebound and beat Bryzgalov to put the Kings up 4-2. Kopitar received the second assist, giving him three for the night and boosting him two points past Alexander Ovechkin for the NHL’s scoring lead with 19 points. The Kings continued to play well, showing for the first time a keen ability to keep up offensive pressure while protecting a third period lead.
The Coyotes did managed to cut the Kings lead to one when Shane Doan floated a puck by a frozen Jonathan Quick on a breakaway. Quick had attempted a poke-check, not the wisest decision under the circumstance, and was not able to extend his left pad as a puck that was never shot glided past him. The Coyotes surged and tried to mount an attack, but the Kings held firm, playing smart hockey through the neutral zone. Dustin Brown added a stat-padding empty net goal with a fraction of a second on the clock.
While this curse-breaking win is worth exalting over, some signs of caution did emerge. Two of the goals Quick gave up could be considered soft, Doan’s second goal certainly pushing the issue. Drew Doughty struggled more often than we are used to seeing. Alexander Frolov took a few shots, but did not take control of his shifts. Jack Johnson had trouble reading the play and gave up several turnovers that led to scary chances. Most disturbingly, Michal Handzus showed flashes of his first year with the Kings, making at the very least 3 hugely uncharacteristic defensive blunders.
However, the positives outweigh the negatives just as the Kings score outweighs that of the Coyotes. Anze Kopitar played another brilliant game. His is becoming as much a rock on defense as he is a horse on offense. Scott Parse looked like a player who absolutely does not want to get sent back down to the minors. Wayne Simmonds exuded confidence and played what this writer thought was his best game of the season. Dustin Brown regressed, but in the good way. He scored two goals and put a hurt on many Coyotes, throwing his weight around on every shift.
While the Kings and their fans sleep soundly tonight, superstition is momentarily free to plague someone else. However, the bitter energy of past defeats will linger a little longer as the Kings rematch against the Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow at Staples Center.