It may just be one win, but there were many positives for the Kings to take out of last night’s 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators. The Kings snapped their 0-3-2 and 1-4-2 slides, they improved their overall record to 7-5-3, and the Kings scored four goals in regulation, after failing to score more than two regulation goals in 12 of their first 14 games this season.
Despite having one of the league’s top power plays so far, coming into last night the Kings were scoring an average of 2.14 goals per game, which ranked them 28th in the NHL, because of their major lack of scoring when it came to 5-on-5 play. However, last night the Kings scored three of their four goals in 5-on-5. Yes, they were playing Nashville’s young backup, Anders Lindback, who hadn’t started all season yet, rather than their Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne, but in my opinion, this game is still 4-3 if Rinne’s in net. None of the goals were soft, I’m not sure Rinne keeps any of them out. Not even he would have stood much of a chance on any of the Kings’ goals last night. But hey, at this point I don’t care who’s in net, it was just nice to see the offense clicking like they were last night after struggling so much this season, especially against a stingy Nashville squad that doesn’t give up a ton of goals.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Bernier continued his dominance over the Predators and was very strong in goal for the Kings, making 27 saves, including some real big ones. He did allow three goals, but the first two he didn’t stand a chance on and came off of turnovers and sloppy defensive play, and the third one came with six attackers on for Nashville and a late redirect in front of the net that he also stood no chance on. Bernier has 16 career NHL victories, and now five of them have come against the Predators. Other than a couple of blunders, the Kings, for the most part, played much better in front of Bernier than they usually do, so hopefully they can build off that next time he’s in goal. Now that he’s gotten them a win and they’ve watched him play very well and bail them out this season, they should have much more confidence in front of him the next time he gets the call in goal.
They also got big contributions from a couple of players who they’ve needed big contributions from but haven’t gotten them, in Drew Doughty and Dustin Penner. Before Monday’s game in San Jose, Doughty had only two points on the year, both assists. Mind you, he only played in eight games to that point, but still, he hasn’t looked great so far this season, largely thanks to his holdout causing him to miss training camp and the early-season injury, but Doughty’s finally starting to look like his old self in the last couple of games. Doughty assisted on both Kings goals on Monday against the Sharks, and then scored his first goal of the season last night against Nashville, wiring a beautiful slap shot off the post and by Lindback. Hopefully he’s finally starting to get into a rhythm, because if he’s on his game, he helps the Kings so much in all areas.
Meanwhile, Dustin Penner played very possibly his best game as a King, although he only recorded one assist (he was originally given two, which would have given him his first multi-point game as a King, but they took his secondary assist away on Richards’ goal and credited it to Willie Mitchell), he looked much, much better. It was actually the second time in as many games that Penner had looked pretty good. Penner’s struggles since coming to Los Angeles are well-documented, and he only had one point, an assist, in 12 games so far this season. After working so hard during the summer to get in shape, being in a contract year, being on a contending team, having the end of last season to get adjusted to the system and having a ton of talent to play with, many were expecting a huge bounce back year from Penner, but so far it hasn’t been the case. No one was sure why, but if you remember, Penner did injure himself early in training camp that he played through most of camp with before shutting himself down shortly before the regular season started and missing both of the Kings’ first two games. Then in his second game back, he suffered a knee contusion in a fight with Zac Rinaldo in Philadelphia.
The last two games, Penner has looked immeasurably better than he has really since he came to LA, and says he feels like he’s finally over his injuries and is feeling better than he has in a long time. If that’s true, then hopefully he can keep this up, and if he does, sooner or later he’s going to get rewarded on the scoreboard. It’s not too late for Penner to turn this around and put together a strong season for the Kings, and at the end of the day, as long as he’s on his game in April and beyond and can help contribute to a deep playoff run for the Kings, then the trade will have been well worth it.
One can only hope that this was the turning point for the offense, rather than the five-goal outbursts against St. Louis and Dallas that the Kings couldn’t follow up with any consistent offensive success afterwards, and now that it appears that two more key cogs of their offense in Doughty and Penner are finally starting to click, there’s real hope that it may actually be. We’ll see if they can prove that they’ve found their scoring touch and that their slump is over when they get a big test on Thursday as they host the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks, but before I get you set for that game, let’s recap last night’s win over the Nashville Predators…
1st period: The Kings’ offense has struggled this season, and early in games have been no different, but after a penalty by Jarret Stoll in the first minute that the Kings killed off, the Predators then found themselves in some penalty trouble of their own, and the Kings capitalized at the 4:29 mark. Justin Williams fed the puck from the left boards across to Alec Martinez at the right circle who smashed a one-timer past Lindback for his first goal of the year. Jarret Stoll also got an assist, for his 300th career NHL regular season point. Then just 1:44 later at the 6:13 mark, Stoll got the puck up to Doughty at the right point who stepped into a slap shot that beat Lindback on his blocker side and rang off the post and in for his first of the year. Kyle Clifford also picked up an assist. Before tonight, the Kings had only six goals from defensemen all season. Four from Jack Johnson, and two from the Manchester-banished Slava Voynov, but the Kings had two goals from defensemen tonight before the first period was even half over. Then at the 10:41 mark, during a 4-on-4, the Kings failed to clear as the puck pinballed around before landing on the stick of Matt Halischuk right in the slot who wired a wrist shot high on Bernier’s blocker side, for his fourth goal of the season. Then on a Nashville power play, at the 16:02 mark, the Kings turned it over right to Craig Smith who walked in a wired a wrist shot from the slot that hit the post and went in for his fifth of the year, and just like that, the Kings’ two-goal lead was erased. Jack Johnson picked up an unofficial assist on the goal… The Kings outshot the Predators 15-8 in the frame, while both teams went 1-for-2 on the power play. Scott Parse took only three shifts before leaving the game with a lower-body injury and not returning. More on that later.
2nd period: The game stayed tied until the 9:28 mark of the second period, when the Kings had a 3-on-2 and Dustin Brown made a perfect pass across the ice to his right to Mike Richards who one-timed it through Lindback’s five-hole from one knee, for Richards’ third goal of the year. Dustin Penner was also originally credited with an assist, but it was later changed to Willie Mitchell. Then at the 12:33 mark, just 3:05 after the Kings retook the lead, they added some insurance, as Justin Williams fed it up from the boards to Dustin Penner in the slot whose shot got tipped by Simon Gagne in front of the net and redirected passed Lindback, who had no chance to stop that one after it got redirected and was only able to get a piece of it. It was Gagne’s fifth goal of the season. The Kings outshot the Predators 11-8 in the period, and each team went 0-for-2 on the power play, although Gagne’s goal came one second after a Nashville penalty had expired.
3rd period: The third stayed scoreless until the Predators pulled their goalie late for a 6-on-5 advantage and pulled within one at the 18:39 mark. Ryan Suter’s point shot got redirected by Patric Hornqvist in front of the net, for his seventh of the year. Martin Erat also got an assist. That was as as close as the Predators would get, however, as the Kings held on for the 4-3 regulation win to end their five-game losing streak. The Predators outshot the Kings 14-4 in the third, and the shots were tied 30-30 on the night. Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play and 1-for-6 on the night.
As mentioned earlier, Scott Parse left the game early with a lower-body injury and did not return, and he has been put on the injured reserve and Colin Fraser has been activated off the injured reserve, finally, and will make his Kings’ debut on Thursday against the Canucks. I’ll include more on that in my game preview for that game, as the Kings have a stiff test against another elite team as they look to stay in the win column and keep the offense going. Stay tuned for the game preview coming sometime before the puck drops tomorrow at 10:30 PM ET/7:30 PM PT at Staples Center.
NOTE: The Kings’ streak of 23 consecutive sellouts at Staples Center was ended last night, as instead of the capacity crowd of 18,118, only 17,963 showed up to watch. Not a huge surprise considering their opponent and the way the Kings had been playing lately, but it’s too bad, because those who didn’t go missed a great game, rather than the last couple of home games where the Kings couldn’t score, lost, or even got shutout.