Due to the Christmas break that sees no games played on December 24th and 25th that is mandated by the NHL, the Kings didn’t play on Christmas, or even on Christmas Eve, so their Christmas miracle came one day late, as they not only finally scored three goals, but four, and they needed every one of them in a 4-3 regulation victory over the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center on Monday night
The Kings ended their streak of 14 consecutive games without scoring more than two regulation/overtime goals, as well as ended their three-game streak of games going to shootouts, and in their first game with him that didn’t end in a shootout, they improved to 2-0-1 under Darryl Sutter, as well as 3-0-1 in their last four games and 4-1-1 in their last six.
In the spirit of the season, former Kings netminder Jason LaBarbera was certainly in a giving mood towards his old team tonight. However, I don’t think any Kings fans should care how these goals went in or how well the opposing goaltender played. Time and time again this season, it seems the Kings were always running into hot goalies, not the ideal recipe to break out of an offensive slump. Tonight, finally, they caught a bad goalie on a bad night, and they took advantage.
On Thursday in San Jose, Jonathan Quick was absolutely brilliant, but thanks to little support from his team, the Kings only managed one point. So it was nice to see tonight that when Jonathan Quick wasn’t on top of his game, his team bailed him out for once (even though they had a lot of help from LaBarbera). Usually when the Kings give up three goals, they don’t have a hope of winning, so it was nice to see the Kings make it up to Quick for costing them the extra point in San Jose by getting the win tonight. By the way, to get an idea of just how good the Kings are defensively and how good the Kings can be if they get their offense going — and there’s no doubt they have the talent to get the offense going — the Kings are 11-0-0 when they score three or more goals this season, and that’s including games where the third goal has come in overtime or even by winning a shootout. Unfortunately, the Kings have only reached three goals 11 times this season, as well as just seven times in regulation and just nine times in regulation and overtime.
Anze Kopitar may have had his goalless streak extended to 15 games, but he was playing like a man possessed tonight, and he got a pair of assists and a plus-3 rating to show for it. My only real complaint about Kopitar is that he still seems reluctant to shoot at times, like when the Kings had a 3-on-2 short-handed break in the second period but he passed it off to his right to… Matt Greene? Maybe he didn’t know it was Greene. Anyways, Greene lost the puck, shockingly.
Unfortunately, Simon Gagne’s slump not only continued as his goalless streak was extended to 17 games, but he left the game early and didn’t return and it’s believed that he’s going to be out for a while with an “upper-body injury,” believed to be a head injury. In other words, likely a concussion. Gagne got off to a good start to his tenure with the Kings, before he fell into this slump, and had only missed two games up to this point. For a man who has had to deal with so many injuries throughout his career, this is awful news, especially because it’s a concussion. Let’s just hope that it’s not too serious and that he won’t be out for too long, and that his slump ends when he returns so he can come back and start contributing again right away.
There was another somewhat scary moment when, on a Phoenix power-play, Drew Doughty tried to flip the puck out but hit Mike Richards in the side of the head. He was bleeding from his ear, which probably isn’t a good sign for anyone, let alone someone who’s recently coming off a concussion, but he ended up being fine, which is great news. The Kings can obviously ill-afford to lose him again.
Well, the Kings finally lifted the two-goal hex. Will they be able to keep the offense going on Wednesday when they head to Chicago to take on an elite team like the Blackhawks who will likely have a goaltender playing quite a bit better than Jason LaBarbera was tonight? We’ll find out then, but before we get set for that, let’s recap this big win over the Coyotes…
1st period: Goals have been rare for the Kings this year, but goals early in games, or even in the opening frame at all, have been even rarer. However, just 4:09 into this one, the Kings opened the scoring. Anze Kopitar was having a tremendous shift when he fed the puck back to Drew Doughty at the left point and the headed to the front of the net. Doughty fed it off to Rob Scuderi at the right point who slapped a shot that beat Jason LaBarbera through the screen set by Kopitar, for his first goal of the season, as LaBarbera was only able to get a piece of it. The Kings may have been able to lift their two-goal hex in this one, but not their curse of allowing goals shortly after scoring one. Although it’s probably not a curse, they just need to play better hockey immediately after they score. Raffi Torres got the puck after blocking a Justin Williams shot and was in on a partial break, but was somewhat brought down by Jack Johnson. There was a delayed penalty (penalty shot?) but Torres got up and wired a shot far side by Jonathan Quick’s blocker at the 5:58 mark, for his fifth goal of the season, just 1:49 after Scuderi scored. The goal was unassisted. I would have liked to see Johnson just completely bring Torres down on the play — he was already getting a penalty — just make sure he can’t get a shot off. Oh well, we saw some examples today of why Johnson’s plus/minus is always so terrible, including a play late in the third period with a one-goal lead when he sent a blind pass up the middle of the ice in the Kings zone and had it intercepted by a Coyote. The Kings retook the lead at the 13:48 mark. Kopitar continued to dominate, and then sent the puck back to Slava Voynov at the right point, whose one-time slap shot was tipped in front out of the air by Brad Richardson, for his second goal of the season. There wasn’t much of a redirection or clear sign that the puck hit Richardson’s stick, so the goal was originally credited to Voynov. Instead, it ended up being Richardson from Voynov and Kopitar (Kopi’s second assist of the night) upon further review. The Kings outshot the Coyotes 15-7 in the first period and each team went 0-for-1 on the power-play. It was just the second time all season that the Kings scored two goals in the first period, the other being against the Nashville Predators on November 8th, which was also a 4-3 regulation win at home. Will this game be a turning point, unlike that game and other games this season where they’ve actually looked good on offense?
2nd period: After the Kings dominated the first period, the ‘Yotes came out looking much better to start the second. At the 13:03 mark, they tied it up. After Slava Voynov’s shot hit a Coyote, Raffi Torres started skating up the ice hoping for a breakaway opportunity, and he got one when he took the stretch pass from Patrick O’Sullivan. Torres came in and shot his second goal of the game along the ice through Quick’s five-hole, for his sixth of the season. Voynov, who was chasing down Torres but couldn’t get to him in time, broke his stick on the post in disgust after the goal. David Schlemko also got an assist. Phoenix outshot LA 10-8 in the second period and went 0-for-1 on the power-play, while the Kings didn’t have one but got a late power-play that would continue for 1:26 to start the third period.
3rd period: Shortly after the Kings power-play expired, they took the lead, finally making their franchise record streak of 14 consecutive games without more than two regulation/overtime goals a thing of the past. Dustin Penner did a great job of controlling the puck as he went up the boards before leaving it for Willie Mitchell, who pinched in off the right point and took the puck and wired a high wrist shot from the circle that LaBarbera (who was playing too deep) got a piece of but deflected in off of him as it went in up high anyways at the 1:48 mark, for Mitchell’s second goal of the season. Justin Williams also got an assist, as the third line got in on the action. Then at the 7:06 mark, Dustin Brown took a Jack Johnson pass and came in down the right side and took a low shot from what was somewhat of a bad angle that LaBarbera got a piece of, but it trickled in anyways, for Brown’s ninth goal of the season, third goal in his last four games and fourth goal in his last six games. The Kings also have three wins in their last four games and four wins in their last six games, and Captain Brownie is leading by example, playing more like his normal-self that we weren’t seeing earlier in the season: physical, and great hockey in every area of the game, and has goals in every win over that span. LaBarbera was furious after allowing that very weak goal, and was pulled in favour of Curtis McElhinney who got into his first NHL action of the season, after just getting called up earlier in the day, as he took over from LaBarbera who was having a terrible night. LaBarbera took his anger out in the tunnel to the Coyotes dressing room after the goal. Of course, just 33 seconds later, at the 7:39 mark, the Coyotes got right back into it. Daymond Langkow knocked in the rebound off of a Mikkel Boedker shot, for his fifth goal of the season. Oliver Ekman-Larsson also got an assist. The Coyotes pulled the goalie late, but couldn’t tie it up. The Kings held on for a 4-3 regulation win over the ‘Yotes. The shots were tied at 12-12 in the third period, while Los Angeles outshot Phoenix 35-29 on the night, finally getting rewarded with some goals for their consistently high shot totals. The Kings went 0-for-2 on the power-play in the third and 0-for-3 on the night, while the Coyotes didn’t have one and were 0-for-2 on the night, as the Kings were finally able to avoid penalty trouble in this one. There was a sequence in the third period, after some nice passing by the Kings, where Jack Johnson hit the post, and then almost right after, someone else hit the post from the side of the net. Just the way things have gone for the Kings this year, but fortunately, it didn’t matter in this one.
Well, they didn’t really get it done with their big-name players, but the Kings finally broke the three-goal barrier. They’ll look to keep the offense going against the Blackhawks in Chicago on Wednesday, likely without Simon Gagne. Stay tuned for a game preview coming sometime before the puck drops at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT at the United Center.