Once again, the Kings let up with a lead in the third period, but tonight, it did not cost them, as Anze Kopitar regained the Kings’ lead late in the third and then Mike Richards scored a shorthanded empty-net goal late to allow the Kings to escape Anaheim with a 5-3 victory, and sweep the home-and-home set with the Ducks in front of what was announced as 15,412 at Honda Center, but looked like a lot less, and a lot of the people that actually showed up happened to be Kings fans.
It wasn’t a perfect night for the Kings. Although they did score five goals (despite one being an empty-netter), as well as a pair of shorthanded goals (one of which was also the empty-netter) to go along with a pair of rare even strength goals and a power play goal, the main problem was another third period nap that the Kings took tonight. After Slava Voynov’s power play goal early in the third gave the Kings a 3-1 lead, the Kings took their foot of the gas pedal and started playing dumb hockey and let the Ducks come back and tie it. Fortunately for the Kings, Anze Kopitar saved the day with a late goal to give the Kings the lead back. However, then the Kings gave the Ducks a late power play, and after pulling Dan Ellis, the Ducks were able to get a 6-on-4 with a chance to tie it, but fortunately for the Kings, Mike Richards made a great play to intercept a pass and fired it down into the vacant net to put the icing on the cake.
The Kings’ play when holding a third period lead is rather odd. Usually when teams have a slim lead late in a game, they drop back into the 1-3-1 trap to play conservatively and try to force the opposition to dump the puck in. However, the Kings seem to be usually be sending two or three forecheckers in, and with the desperation that the team that is trailing plays with at the end of games, they’re often going to find ways to score if the Kings aren’t playing conservative, smart hockey, and that’s what’s been happening lately. At the same time, you don’t want to play like you’re protecting a lead for the whole period, only late in the period, but the Kings are not putting much pressure on for the entirety of the period and seem to be cruising for most of the third period more often than not. So basically, they aren’t putting pressure on when they should be for most of the period, and they aren’t dropping back into a trap to protect the lead late, either. I don’t know if it’s an issue with the system, or if it’s just an extreme lack of discipline by the players, but that’s just something that I’ve noticed and I think it’s something that needs to change.
However, it’s a happy occasion! The Kings just swept a home-and-home set with the Ducks on back-to-back nights, have scored five goals in two of their last three games and seem to be coming around on offense, have won three games in a row and four of their last five, and now at 10-6-3, sit atop the Pacific Division. Yeah, they’re one point ahead of Dallas, two points ahead of Phoenix and San Jose, and the Stars and Coyotes have two games in hand on the Kings and the Sharks have three… But still! Oh, and they’re also seven points ahead of the Ducks, who have played the same amount of games. Man, what is going on there? I certainly don’t think the Ducks are the best team in the world, but I didn’t think they were this bad, either. You wonder when something’s going to give in Anaheim, and you wonder what it’s going to be…
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, how is Dean Lombardi going to send the Ruskies down when the Kings get healthy? They both look fantastic, the Kings are winning with them, there’s a strong argument to be made that they’re playing better than the players that they’re replacing were, tonight they both assisted on Richards’ opening goal, and Voynov then chipped in a power play goal for good measure. His third goal of the year, which leads all Kings defensemen, and he’s only played in seven games up here. Who knows, maybe Loktionov could have done some damage on the power play as well, if Murray would put him out there instead of Ethan Moreau… It’s awfully frustrating seeing someone like Ethan Moreau who just has no business being on the power play out there and looks lost and actually took a penalty of his own tonight while the Kings were on the power play. Bad call? Maybe, but still. I know Terry Murray likes having a big body in front of the net on the power play for net presence, but this is taking it too far. If you don’t have a big body to put in front of the net, then you don’t have one. You can’t stick players out there who have no business on an NHL power play just because they’re a big body, especially when you’re doing it at the expense of a player with the skills of Andrei Loktionov. Just my opinion.
Another thing I’d like to talk about is Murray’s decision to start Jonathan Quick tonight. Did Quick play well? Yes. He made some big saves and I don’t think you could really fault him on any of the Ducks’ goals, but you have to look at the bigger picture here. Jonathan Bernier is a young goalie who needs to get some starts, and he’s made only three starts in 19 games this season, not nearly enough, and something gives me the feeling that he’s not going to start on Saturday against the Red Wings, either. Bernier is a very good goalie, who Terry Murray just seems to not have a lot of confidence in for some reason. He can’t throw Bernier in there once every few weeks and then wonder why he looks rusty. I understand that Quick’s playing great and he needs to play a lot, but so does Bernier. The starts need to start being distributed much more equally, and Bernier still gives you a strong chance to win whenever he’s in net. I know Murray said that he’s going to go with the hot hand this year, and Quick’s hand is certainly hot right now, but then why did he go with Bernier when Quick had three straight shutouts and the Kings had two days off in between games, but this is the second time that he’s gone with Quick on both ends of a back-to-back situation? Tonight it worked out, the Kings got the win and Quick played well, but still, especially in a goaltending situation like the Kings have, you have to split the back-to-back games. Jonathan Quick is on pace for about 70 starts and we’re almost a quarter of the way through the season, Bernier needs to see a lot more action here for the rest of the season, for the sake of his development and so Quick isn’t burned out by the playoffs. You’d think Murray would have learned after he burned Quick out by playing him too much two seasons ago and then he was clearly gassed against the Canucks in the playoffs. And it’s not like Bernier is even getting a chance to show that he has a hot hand and stay in the crease. After Quick and the Kings had lost five straight games, Bernier had a strong win over the Predators last week to end the Kings’ slump, but instead of “riding the hot hand”, Bernier hasn’t played since. I’m just really not sure about how Murray is handling the goaltending situation right now, and hopefully we start seeing a lot more of Jonathan Bernier, and he can’t just play against Nashville.
So although there are some areas that concern me, the Kings appear to be out of their slump, they appear to be starting to score, and they appear to be playing good hockey again, which is the bottom line. Let’s hope they can keep this up for a while, and let’s hope that these concerns start to disappear. Before we look ahead, let’s recap Thursday’s win in Anaheim…
1st period: In what ended up being a very entertaining game, the opening frame was not, as despite a combined 27 shots on goal, there never seemed to be much sustained pressure or many prime scoring chances. The Kings outshot the Ducks 14-13, while the only power play of the period went to the Ducks, who did not capitalize.
2nd period: The Kings didn’t take long to break the deadlock in the second period, as Slava Voynov got the puck up to his countrymate, and then Andrei Loktionov passed to Mike Richards who came in and wired a backhand short side off the post that beat Dan Ellis for Richards’s sixth goal of the year, second in as many nights, and fourth in five games. Shortly after, Kyle Clifford and Sheldon Brookbank fought. Then, once again, the Kings gave up a goal shortly after scoring one, as this time it took only 2:25 for the Ducks to get it back. Teemu Selanne’s shot hit the stick of Saku Koivu in front and bounced to the other side of the net and Andrew Cogliano was there to knock it past Quick for his third goal of the year at the 3:19 mark. Jonathan Quick was irate with the officials after the goal, apparently complaining that he was interfered with. Then just a few minutes later, the Ducks got a power play and a chance to take the lead, but Cam Fowler missed the puck at the point and Simon Gagne was off to the races on a breakaway and made a great move to his forehand to put it by Ellis, for Gagne’s seventh goal of the season, at the 7:28 mark. The goal was unassisted. The Kings outshot the Ducks 13-11 in the frame, while each team went 0-for-1 on the power play, but the Kings scored a shorthanded goal.
3rd period: What would be a wild third period was delayed for several minutes by lighting problems at Honda Center, but when the game finally resumed, the Kings got an early power play, and Slava Voynov capitalized at the 2:45 mark. From the right circle, Simon Gagne fed a backhand pass across the ice to Voynov at the left circle who stopped the puck with his skate and then shot it by Ellis for his third goal in seven games with the Kings this year. Dustin Brown also got an assist. Then the Kings got a four-minute power play and a chance to put the game away, but Terry Murray found out what happens when you put Ethan Moreau on the power play, as Moreau took a holding penalty with 59 seconds remaining in the man-advantage, and after 59 seconds of 4-on-4, the Ducks would get 1:01 of a power play, and at the 8:24 mark, with five seconds remaining on the Moreau penalty, Corey Perry scored a power play goal to pull the Ducks within one, with his seventh goal of the season. Ryan Getzlaf’s shot from the right side got jammed in by Perry, and video review upheld the goal, as they may have been looking to determine if perhaps it was hit in with a glove, like Getzlaf’s goal that got called back in LA on Wednesday night. Kurtis Foster also got an assist. Then at the 13:35 mark, Andrew Cogliano redirected Luca Sbisa’s point shot in to tie the game, with his fourth goal of the season and second of the night. Teemu Selanne also got an assist. Then at the 16:59 mark, the Kings retook the lead. Anze Kopitar cut to the slot and took a backhand that went behind the net, then he went and got the puck and tried to jam it in on a backhand wraparound, and after it didn’t go in the first time, took another jab at the puck and it got by Ellis, for Kopitar’s ninth goal of the season. Justin Williams and Rob Scuderi got the assists. Then the Kings realized they had a lead, so they assumed the game must be over, and they took a penalty shortly after regaining the lead to give the Ducks life and allowed them to pull the goalie to get a 6-on-4 advantage, but at the 18:22 mark, Anze Kopitar got a piece of a Cam Fowler pass that went right to Richards who immediately fired the puck down into the empty net from his own end to put the icing on the cake, with his seventh goal of the year and second on the night, as well as the Kings’ second shorthanded goal and third special teams goal of the night. It was the first time that the Kings had scored two shorthanded goals in one game since an 8-2 victory in Columbus on November 13th, 2005. Craig Conroy and Alexander Frolov scored the shorthanded goals in that game. The Ducks outshot the Kings 14-9 in the third, and 38-36 on the night. The Kings went 1-for-2 on the power play in the period and 1-for-3 on the night, while the Ducks also went 1-for-2 in the frame, while overall going 1-for-4 on the night.
So after sweeping a home-and-home set with their arch-rival, the Kings are feeling good about themselves as they prepare to host the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday afternoon. Stay tuned for a game preview coming sometime before the puck drops at Staples Center at 4:00 PM ET/1:00 PM