Be honest, Mike. How good did that feel?
Unless you don’t care about hockey, or you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Mike Richards was making his return to Philadelphia on Saturday night. Richards, who spent six years in Philly, and the last three as their captain, made his triumphant return after being shipped to LA in the summer, making a beautiful shot-pass in overtime on the power play that Jack Johnson tipped in to give the Kings the 3-2 overtime victory. A Jack Johnson power play overtime goal, assists to Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar, and the Kings win 3-2. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Because that’s exactly how the Kings got their other win this season which came back in the opener over the New York Rangers. When Richards stepped onto the ice for warm ups, he was greeted mostly with cheers by the Philly faithful. Partway through the 1st period, Richards was given a standing ovation by the fans as they paid tribute to him on the video board. However, after that, Richards was booed for most of the night whenever he touched the puck. But in the end, he who laughs last, laughs loudest, and Richards got the last laugh as he silenced the sellout crowd at the Wells Fargo Center by setting up Jack Johnson for the overtime winner. It was a physical affair, with a ton of penalties and all but one goal coming on a power play, that also involved Drew Doughty getting injured and now he’s expected to be out 7-10 days with what is being described as an upper-body injury, or a minor shoulder sprain, but the good news is that it’s not a head injury. Let’s recap how the game went down:
1st period: Drew Doughty tried to skate into the Flyers’ zone very early in the game, and it’s not a good idea to have your head up when you’re trying to get by three defenders, and he got rocked by Zac Rinaldo, the hit that has sidelined Doughty for 7-10 days. He played one more shift, and then left the game and did not return. Dustin Penner came to the defense of the Kings’ young defenseman, but ended up getting an instigator, as well as a ten-minute misconduct. Kyle Clifford served the minor for instigating. Matt Greene then took a slashing penalty which gave the Flyers a two-man advantage for 44 seconds, and Daniel Briere capitalized with his 1st goal of the year off a nice pass from Jaromir Jagr at the side of the net at the 2:30 mark. The 1st penalty had ended, so play was back to even strength. Chris Pronger also got an assist. At the 11:29 mark, the Kings tied it up on a power play goal of their own. The former Flyer who no one was talking about making his return to Philly, Justin Williams, took a pass from another former Flyer, Simon Gagne, in the slot and took a wrist shot that beat Ilya Bryzgalov high who was only able to get a piece of it with his shoulder. It started as a 5-on-3 for 46 seconds, but like the Flyers, the goal came with a 5-on-4 advantage, meaning it was back to even strength. Willie Mitchell also got an assist. The shots were 14-9 for the Flyers after the 1st. The Kings went 1-for-4 on the power play, the Flyers went 1-for-2.
2nd period: The Flyers dominated play in the 2nd period and outshot the Kings 12-7. Philadelphia went 0-for-2 on the power play, and also would have four seconds remaining on a third one heading into the 3rd. At the 7:14 mark, Mike Richards flattened Jakub Voracek. Kevin Westgarth went after Zac Rinaldo midway through the period, likely as retaliation for the Doughty hit, and both got ten-minute misconducts, as Clifford (again) and Andreas Nodl served the two-minute unsportsmanlike minors and it was 4-on-4.
3rd period: The Kings rolled three lines this period, as Dustin Penner, Kevin Westgarth, and Kyle Clifford did not leave the bench. The Kings broke the deadlock at the 12:35 mark as Justin Williams took the puck to Bryzgalov’s right and walked across the slot and put a backhand on net that was originally stopped, but then picked up his on rebound and buried his 2nd of the game. Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson got the assists. And then, a trend that Kings fans saw far, far, far, far too often last season. They score a goal, but almost right away, they let the other team get it right back, as Mike Richards temporarily wore the goat horns as he took a hooking penalty that lead to a Matt Carle power play goal at the 13:29 mark, as the Kings’ lead lasted just 54 seconds. James van Riemsdyk and Daniel Briere had the helpers. The Flyers outshot the Kings 8-7 in the frame, and overall 34-23 in regulation. The Flyers went 1-for-3 on the power play in the frame, including the four seconds they had left on the one that carried over from the 2nd period, and the Kings went 0-for-3, but were also going to get 1:40 of a power play to start overtime.
Overtime: The Kings took three shots on their power play to the Flyers’ none before Jack Johnson ended it at the 1:39 mark with one second remaining on the van Riemsdyk penalty, as Johnson tipped in a beautiful shot-pass from Mike Richards. Anze Kopitar also picked up an assist. The Kings were 2-for-8 on the power play on the night, and the Flyers were 2-for-7. The Flyers outshot the Kings 34-26. There were a combined 76 penalty minutes in this game, 43 for the Kings, 33 for the Flyers. Dustin Penner and Zac Rinaldo lead the way with 17, all coming off their early game scrum. Penner suffered a contusion from the fight, which is why he didn’t leave the bench in the 3rd, not for his play. Westgarth and Clifford not leaving the bench was likely performance related.
All of the former Flyers got in on the fun tonight, as Justin Williams had two goals, Simon Gagne had an assist, and Mike Richards had the primary assist as he set up the game-winning overtime power play goal. Overall, in his return in Philadelphia, Richards had an assist, won 13 of 19 faceoffs (68%), had three shots, logged 20:58 of ice time, and had some big hits, including a monster hit on Jakub Voracek in the 2nd period. Not a bad return at all. Jack Johnson also had a fantastic game as his hot start continues, as he also logged a team-high 30:57 time on ice.
So a very happy Mike Richards and his team end up getting five out of eight points to start the year on their long, grueling road trip, going 2-1-1, and now head home for their real home opener on Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues, their first Western Conference opponent of the year as the Kings start to get back into their own conference and a team that always gives the Kings a ton of trouble, but I’ll get more into that in the game preview that will come sometime before the game.
2-1-1 isn’t bad when you consider how long this road trip was and the teams that they faced. No, nine goals in four games isn’t very good. No, neither is having your opponents get six out of eight points against you and having them record at least one point in every game, but they’re East teams, so who cares, plus they’re all very good teams so there’s no shame in that. Not being able to score more than 2 goals in regulation in your first four games isn’t good either, but the teams they’ve faced have been the Rangers, Sabres, Devils, and Flyers, all very good teams who played very well, and the goalies they’ve faced have been Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Martin Brodeur/Johan Hedberg (who is very underrated), and Ilya Bryzgalov, all great goaltenders who also played very well.
The Kings’ power play is also 4-for-16 on the power play on the year at 25%, so although it doesn’t look great, that’s not a terrible conversion rate. Hopefully the offense picks it up now that the schedule gets a little easier for the rest of the month, although they do have another game with the Devils left, and the Blues always play the Kings tough, but both of those games are at home. Like, real home. Not Stockholm or Berlin. The rest of the month, they play the Avalanche, and have two games with the Richard-less Stars, and two with the Bryzgalov-less ‘Yotes, so the schedule does ease up a bit after a tough stretch to start, and they were able to escape with five of eight possible points and two of four wins.
Now that they’re going to start playing Western Conference teams though, you don’t want to win all of your games in overtime or shootout, because you give a team your fighting for position with a point, and regardless of what conference a team you’re playing is in, a shootout win won’t count as a win in a tiebreaker.
So now, finally, the Kings are coming home, and will get a couple of days to take a breather before heading into a Staples Center that will be rocking for their home opener on Tuesday. As mentioned earlier, expect a game preview for that game against the St. Louis Blues in the next couple of days.