The Kings have scored nine goals in 21 first periods this season, the fewest goals scored in the first period of any team in the NHL, but after another poor opening frame, the Kings and St. Louis Blues put together a heck of a performance in an epic game in front of 18,178 at Scottrade Center, with the Kings eventually coming out on top, 3-2 in regulation, while handing the Blues their first regulation loss in the Ken Hitchcock era.
Jonathan Bernier may not start tomorrow, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him back in net soon, and getting a few more starts in the next little while. Making just his fourth start of the season, Bernier was brilliant tonight, making a handful of excellent saves to keep the Kings in it, especially in the first period when they weren’t giving him much help, and routinely bailed the Kings out with big saves tonight. This is exactly what the Kings want. Two great young goaltenders pushing each other to be at their best. After Quick struggled on Saturday and Bernier was brilliant tonight, now the ball is back in Quick’s court. He’ll likely start in Dallas tomorrow night, and now he’ll need to be at his best, or, after tonight’s performance, Murray’s going to want to see a little bit more of Bernier out there. As long as both goalies can continue to play well and push each other, then this is an absolutely wonderful situation for the Kings to be in.
Remember in my last post when I graded the Kings players, and in my section for Willie Mitchell I wrote about how he had a big shot and, with the lack of scoring the Kings are suffering from this season, that they could use some production from him? Well, apparently he reads my work, because he chipped in the game-winning goal tonight. That was the secondary scoring for the Kings tonight, while the usual suspects were at it again, Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, who continues to amaze. Richards now has seven goals in his last seven games, also chipped in an assist tonight, and now has nine goals and nine assists in 21 games. He is simply amazing, and, as I mentioned when grading him in my last post, I shudder to think where this team would be without him. Oh yeah, and he was 15/16 in the faceoff circle tonight (94%), and his only loss was the last draw of the game with 1.5 seconds left, and with the faceoff outside the Kings zone, it didn’t really matter.
Some other observations from night, one is that the Trent Hunter experiment needs to end. He is providing nothing but bad penalties and a bad option for the power play that Murray is still going to use. In fact, the same goes for Ethan Moreau. These are two who should go to make room for Dustin Penner and Scott Parse when they return, in my opinion. I don’t see it happening, especially in Moreau’s case, but I think it should happen.
This was an epic, thrilling game (especially since the Kings came out on top). However, there was some controversy at the end, when Drew Doughty cross checked T.J. Oshie into the boards, that appeared to be from behind. That said, it was the same hit that happens many times in hockey games, but Oshie was off-balanced and had put himself in a vulnerable position. So, some of the responsibility falls on Doughty, whether he noticed he was off-balanced or not. Will he be suspended? Who knows anymore, but I wouldn’t be shocked. If not, maybe he could just get away with a fine.
So the Kings were able to shrug off their defeat on Saturday and find a way to get a win tonight. They’ll look for another one in Dallas tomorrow, but before we get set for that, let’s recap Tuesday’s win over the Blues…
1st period: The game didn’t get started well for the Kings. Terry Murray decided to put Ethan Moreau on with Mike Richards and Dustin Brown for the first shift, but that line didn’t last long. Shortly after that first shift, the Kings were looking sleepy to start the game but got a wakeup call courtesy of Alex Steen, who took a short pass in the slot from T.J. Oshie and beat Bernier along the ice through his five-hole at the 1:07 mark. It was Steen’s eighth goal of the season. Each team went 0-for-1 on the power play, while the Blues also got one late in the first that they did not capitalize on, but carried over for another four seconds into the second period. The Kings outshot the Blues 8-7. On the Kings power play, Dustin Brown was sprung on a breakaway, but Roman Polak made a good play to stymie his attempt. Colin Fraser, who is quickly becoming a favourite of mine, fought Scott Nichol late in the first after Nichol was unimpressed with a Fraser hit on him. Two undersized and unlikely combatants competed in a fight where not many fists were thrown, but Fraser got the take down at the end.
2nd period: Early in the second, Bernier robbed David Backes, making a sprawling save on a rebound. Then on a power play, the Blues hit a post with a point shot. Then on a Kings power play, Patrik Berglund stripped the puck from Justin Williams and came in on a 2-on-1, but was stopped by Bernier. On that same power play, Mike Richards took a turnover deep in the Blues zone from Barret Jackman and fed Anze Kopitar at the other side of the net who buried his tenth goal of the year at the 7:36 mark. Late in the second, the Blues made a nice passing play to set up Patrik Berglund who came in and made a backhand move but was robbed by Bernier. Dustin Brown laid a big hit on Kris Russell that appeared to be a bit late and maybe after the period had expired, but afterwards, Alex Pietrangelo responded with a slash on Brown to make it 4-on-4 and negate the around a minute that the Blues would have remaining on a power play to start the third. The Kings went 1-for-3 on the power play while the Blues went 0-for-3. The Blues outshot the Kings 14-11, and, as he was all night, Jonathan Bernier was absolutely brilliant.
3rd period: At the 4:41 mark, the Kings once again capitalzed on a Barret Jackman turnover. This time, he turned it over with Andrei Loktionov and Dustin Brown applying pressure, and the puck went right to Loktionov who walked in and then made a brilliant pass to Mike Richards in the slot who went down to one-knee and snapped a one-timer over Halak to give the Kings the lead. It was Richards’ ninth goal of the year, and seventh in his last seven games, as well as his second point of the night. Loktionov picked up the lone assist, his second in four games since being called up. At the 12:28 mark, the Blues tied it up. Matt D’Agostini got the puck in deep, then stopped up and fed it to the trailing Vladimir Sobotka in the slot whose one-time shot squeaked by Bernier, for Sobotka’s second goal of the season. Kris Russell also got an assist. Then the Kings were on the other side of a team giving up a goal shortly after scoring one for once, as it took them just 1:43 to reclaim the lead. At the 14:11 mark, Willie Mitchell got the puck at the left point, then wired a slap shot that hit Scott Nichol and redirected by Halak for Mitchell’s first goal of the season. Simon Gagne and Justin Williams picked up the assists. Then with less then two seconds left, there was the Doughty hit on Oshie. Doughty received a two-minute minor for cross checking on the play, but then the Blues retaliated which meant that the faceoff would be outside the Kings zone, which killed all hope of a buzzer-beater to tie it up for St. Louis. The Kings outshot the Blues 9-4 in the third and 28-25 on the night, and other than the few minutes before the Blues’ goal, didn’t let up in the third for once, which was good to see. The Blues went 0-for-2 on the power play in the frame and 0-for-6 on the night, ending an eight-game stretch where the Kings gave up at least one power play goal in every game. They did it against, the league’s worst power play, but still… Terry Murray also said he liked some of the things that the penalty kill was doing and that they were better despite the weak power play that they faced. The Kings went 0-for-2 in the period and 1-for-6 on the night.
So after a big win in St. Louis, the Kings try to sweep this mini road trip, and don’t get much time to celebrate this win as they’re right back at it Wednesday night in Dallas. Stay tuned for a game preview coming sometime before the puck drops at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT at American Airlines Center.
NOTE: Terry Murray, 61, and Ken Hitchcock, 59, are the oldest coaches in the NHL, and I just noticed that in both Kings/Blues games this season, they’ve had the home team wear white. Hmm… Yes, I know Hitchcock wasn’t the coach for the first game… But still… Are these two old dinosaurs really trying to bring back old-time hockey?