With the Kings having not scored a goal in their last 126:14, Darryl Sutter changed up the lineup a bit today. For starters, Tyler Toffoli replaced Dustin Penner in the lineup. Toffoli took the spot of Jeff Carter as right wing on the second line with Mike Richards, Carter moved up Justin Williams’ spot as right wing on the first line with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, and Williams moved down to Penner’s spot as left wing on the second line with Richards and Toffoli. Penner just isn’t getting it done nearly enough, and with the trade deadline looming, you wonder if he’s finally worn out his welcome in Los Angeles. This is hardly the first time he’s been a healthy scratch. As far Toffoli, he had a solid NHL debut last Saturday in over 13 minutes of action, then had a goal and three shots as well as an assist in his next game, but then sat most of the third period in his next game and was a healthy scratch the last two games. I thought Toffoli looked fine, but apparently Sutter didn’t agree. But, with Penner’s struggles, he’ll now get another chance to impress his coach.
After not scoring a goal in their last two games, the Kings entered this game as the sixth seed in the Western Conference, ahead of the St. Louis Blues by virtue of having 16 regulation/overtime wins to the Blues’ 15. They sat one point behind the Detroit Red Wings, but with a game in hand, and two points behind the Minnesota Wild, though they had a game in hand on the Kings. The Kings have been miserable on the road this year, where they are 5-8-1 and have lost their last three games. Tonight, they began a five-game road trip against the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes. The Kings are going to need to get their road woes turned around and start scoring some goals, but against the Blackhawks tonight, a team that is at the top of the NHL with a 24-3-3 record this year (and they won both of their previous meetings with the Kings this season), it was not going to be easy.
Not even six minutes of the game, at the left point, Duncan Keith passed the puck down the boards to Brandon Saad above the left circle, and Saad passed it across to Michael Frolik in the right slot, and Frolik beat Jonathan Quick along the ice through his five-hole. The shot was from the slot, but it was along the ice, right through Quick’s five-hole, and it wasn’t hard. Terrible goal for Quick, who had been looking better his last few games. With just under nine minutes left, the Blackhawks got a four-minute power play, as Richards went off for high-sticking. Richards fanned on his shot, and his stick came up and hit Viktor Stalberg. From what I understand of the rule, that is an awful call. Fortunately, the Kings avoided disaster and killed it off. Ultimately, though, the Kings were still outshot 11-7 in an opening frame where they were dominated and rarely generated anything even remotely dangerous.
Just about four minutes into the second period, Jordan Nolan and Brandon Bollig fought, but it was more of a grabbing match without many good punches thrown. Bollig was looking to avenge a clean hit by Nolan on Marcus Kruger, of course. Not even a minute later, Kopitar picked the puck up in the left side of the Kings neutral zone, skated into the low side of the circle closest to Corey Crawford to his right, and roofed it by his glove. Great shot by Kopitar, as he ends the Kings’ goal drought at 150:35. Not even a minute after Kopitar’s goal, Patrick Kane headed to the penalty box for boarding, but the Kings were unable to take advantage and take the lead, and Brown took an interference penalty shortly after Kane’s penalty ended. However, shortly into Brown’s penalty, from behind the goal line to Quick’s left, Rob Scuderi worked the puck up the right boards by the circle, where Trevor Lewis chipped the puck up to Stoll in the high right side of the Kings zone, who started down on a 2-on-1 with Slava Voynov on Brent Seabrook, and Stoll walked into the right circle and sniped a shot by Crawford’s glove. The Kings would also kill off the remainder of Brown’s penalty. However, with just over five minutes left in the period, Jonathan Toews worked the puck from above the left circle by the boards in the Kings zone to Keith at the left point, Frolik went to the high left slot by the circle, and redirected Keith’s shot, again, along the ice between Quick’s legs. It was a redirection, but this is another goal Quick may want back. Frolik has three goals this year, and they’ve all been on Quick. With under a minute left, from the right boards in the Chicago zone, Seabrook passed the puck up to the middle of the Kings neutral zone to Jimmy Hayes, and as both Jake Muzzin and Drew Doughty went to him, Hayes immediately chipped the puck up to the right slot, where Kane picked it up, moved around to Quick’s right — who once again failed epically with a pokecheck — and slid the puck home. Kane was Doughty’s man, however, shortly after, Doughty would make up for it. From the goal line to Quick’s right, Keaton Ellerby passed the puck up the middle to Doughty in the Kings zone, who skated through all five Blackhawks on the ice, moved into the low slot, swiped at the puck with his backhand, didn’t get much of it, but the puck would go in anyways, thanks to the left skate of Dwight King, as it went under Crawford’s right pad with half a second left in the period. It was reviewed, but it would stand. The Kings had a pretty good period, outshooting the Blackhawks 12-5 in the middle frame, and scoring three goals after not scoring one in over 150 minutes.
The Kings came out strong to start the third period, so naturally, not even four minutes into the period, Keith worked the puck from the left point to Frolik in the high left slot, Frolik took a shot that hit Toews in front, who was battling with Richards, and Toews knocked the puck between Quick’s legs with his backhand. However, just over four minutes later, Voynov started the puck out the right side of the Kings zone with a pass up to Toffoli, who passed to the left side of the Chicago neutral zone to Colin Fraser, who entered the Blackhawks zone, passed back to Toffoli in the high left slot, and Toffoli took a weak shot that fluttered through a screen and somehow beat Crawford low by his glove. Then with just under eight minutes left, Frolik took a cross-checking penalty, giving the Kings a chance to take back the lead. Not wanting to waste this opportunity, Sutter called his timeout. Of course, they still did waste the opportunity, mind you. But, with just over a minute left, off a faceoff to Crawford’s right, Kopitar won it, Brown picked it up, took a shot that went high and hit Johnny Oduya in front of Crawford, but went right back to Brown in the high slot who beat Crawford high, as he still hadn’t gotten over to the middle of the net. The ‘Hawks pulled Crawford shortly after and then took their timeout, but weren’t able to tie it up, as the Kings dealt the Blackhawks their fourth regulation loss in 31 games this year. The Kings played a strong final frame, outshooting Chicago, 17-9.
Well, how about that? The Kings were 12-2-1 at home, but don’t score a goal in losses to the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks. Then they go on the road, where they were 5-8-1 on the year and had lost their last three games, and facing a Chicago team that was 24-3-3 on the year, and win, 5-4. Go figure. It was a heck of a game that was back and forth between two of the top teams in the Western Conference, and fortunately for the Kings, they got a win they needed after blowing the end of their homestand. The Kings got strong performances from a number of players tonight, including Toffoli and Nolan, who were scratches recently but are now doing all they can to stay in the lineup. Despite the assist, Fraser is someone who did not have a strong game. Again. I’ll never understand why Sutter likes him so much. Believe it or not, he was even on the power play late in the game. I’d still much rather see Brad Richardson instead of him, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Another one of the strong performances for the Kings did not come from their goaltender, as Quick had a rough night after playing well last week. The Kings won, but I still think Jonathan Bernier should start on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues, as the Kings continue this road trip and look to build off the momentum they got at the start of it by taking out the top team in the NHL. Whoever starts, be sure to check in for my post-game reaction afterwards, but for now, it’s time for my picks for tonight’s three stars.
Third Star: Dustin Brown.
It wasn’t his best overall performance, but as a captain should, Brown stepped up when the Kings needed him most, burying the go-ahead goal — and ultimate game-winning goal — with just over a minute left.
Second Star: Michael Frolik.
The thing about Frolik is he’s not very good. Apparently, no one told the Kings. Coming into tonight, he had a goal and three assists in 28 games this year. His only goal, and one of those assists, came against the Kings. Tonight, he added a pair of goals and another assist. Some guys just have your number.
First Star: Anze Kopitar.
As usual, Kopitar played an all-around great game, and in the second period he stepped up and finished off a great play with a great shot to finally end the Kings’ goal drought of over 150 minutes, and then won the faceoff in the last minute that led to Brown’s game-winning goal. That’s what you need from your best player.
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