Special teams are always a factor. Special Ed. teams on the other hand can completely dictate a game.
As two of the league’s worst penalty kills met in a battle of suck, the Los Angeles Kings managed to bounce back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Florida Panthers 4-3 in a shootout. 4 of the games 6 regulation goals were scored with special teams unit on the ice. Entering the game the Kings boasted the league’s 26th worst penalty kill and the Panthers the 28th worst, with a success rate of 75.6 and 74.2 respectively. With percentages that low, someone’s PP is going to shine.
Nathan Horton kicked off the scoring 2:05 into the second period when he fired off a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Jonathan Quick stick high just 18 seconds into the Panthers’ first of three power plays. Hearts collectively sunk when Horton scored the type of goal that has becoming the Achilles heal of Quick. Matters were made worse just two minutes later when defenseman Randy Jones was caught up ice as Steven Reinprecht blazed past him in the neutral for a 2-on-1 with veteran Cory Stillman. Drew Doughty was unable to block a last second cross feed which Stillman promptly buried to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead with half a hockey game left to play.
From there, the Kings took full advantage of the poor special teams in Florida (whose powerplay was clicking at a nearly non-existent 13% coming into this game) as they scored three unanswered goals to take a 3-2 lead. With just over 10 minutes to play in the second period Jack Johnson smoked a one-timer past Thomas Vokoun off a feed from Randy Jones.
For a moment it had seemed the Kings would begin the third period tied. With 1.7 seconds to play, Johnson ripped a shot past Vokoun off a face-off that turned out to be a few tenths of a second too slow to count.
No big deal. The Kings didn’t need it.
2:23 into the third period Jarret Stoll snapped in a goal off a beautiful one-touch pass from Anze Kopitar with Radek Dvorak in the box for hooking, one of several offensive zone penalties the unruly Panthers took during the game. The penalties continued when Alexander Frolov ran over Vokoun 4 minutes later and received two minutes in the box for goalie interference. It figures that the first time Frolov rushes the crease like the power forward he is strong enough to be he gets a penalty. In what could have easily been an implosive moment for the Kings, Michal Handzus picked off a puck on the ensuing penalty kill, carried it over the offensive blue line and fire a shot that rebounded off of Vokoun directly onto the stick of Randy Jones, who scored his second goal as a King in just his 4th game to give the Kings their first lead of the game. Jones now has 2 goals and 2 assists as a King. 7th defenseman my foot.
The lead did not last very long. Jack Johnson decided to give his goal back when he sent a clearing pass up the ice that was picked off by rookie Viktor Oreskovich. Oreshkavonavichnik, whose name gave Bob Miller fits to the point of laughter, turned the play around quickly and started a scramble in front of the net that resulted in his first career NHL goal. Brian Allen had sent a shot through that deflected up in the air and straight to the waiting glove of Oreskovich at Quick’s doorstep. The Kings goalie had no chance on the play, and neither did any King as Oreskovich was the only person in the stadium to track the funny-flying puck.
So to overtime the game went where not much happened until Johnson broke through the neutral zone and past two Florida defenders and just barely missed scoring the winning goal. From there the game went to the shootout, where the goaltenders stood strong. Jonathan Quick stopped Olesz, Reinprecht and Stillman. Anze Kopitar missed wide, but Jack Johnson solidified his first star of the game accolades, winning the game with a shootout goal we have seen before and hope to see again and again and again. Left, right, right, left, slam. Vokoun didn’t stand a chance.
While the Kings end their road trip 3-2, a wholly respectable accomplishment, they lost two key players during those 5 games. Rob Scuderi is already out with ferocious fungus or hammer toes, and tonight Ryan Smyth joined Scuderi when he did not come to the bench to start the third period. It appears he was injured by a Keith Ballard hip check in the second period that Smyth just narrowly didn’t avoid. George Carlin would have called it a near-miss. Smyth was flying down the right wing, pushed the puck past Ballard and tried to jump around him. Boom. No such luck. Ah, look, they nearly missed. Smyth returned in the period for a few shifts but would not skate a shift in the final frame or overtime.
We hope Smyth recovers quickly, if not immediately, and we also hope you will join in guessing what pain is plaguing our very important forward.
Overall, the Kings played a very up and down game. This one was fun, as it actually resembled a ‘normal’ hockey game. Back and forth. Some good hits. Wayne Simmonds had a nice little fight with Kenndal McArdle. Not a wonderfully played game by the Kings as they had their fair share of defensive meltdowns. Scott Parse played a physical and exciting game, and though he was held off the score sheet, he provided intense energy when the Kings needed it most. The most encouraging aspects of this game were the fact that the Kings battled back after giving up the games first two goals, as well as the strong play of Quick. Percentage-wise Quick was not stellar, stopping 26 of 29 shots, but Quick was strong when he needed to be, and while Horton’s goal wasn’t the strongest, he had absolutely no chance on the other two.
So GO KINGS GO! And GO FANS GO as the Kings finally return to Staples on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers. Come out in full force Kings faithful to keep the always present Flyers’ fans at bay. It should be a fun one, and there will likely be a few fights (not necessarily on the ice). I will be there screaming my head off, and I expect to hear you screaming with me!