FREE HATS - Harry How
Jeff Carter gets a natural hat trick on free hat night, including goals on consecutive shots in the third period to break the game open. Richards adds a power play tally, and Jonathan Bernier continues his strong play in allowing just one goal for the fifth consecutive game.
The Los Angeles Kings and the Nashville Predators entered the third period of Monday night's game in a familiar scenario. The hockey had been dull. The shots had been scarce, the goals even less so. Jeff Carter had put in an early goal more by accident than anything else, attempting a pass to Richards which squirmed through the legs of Pekka Rinne. But once again, everything was up for grabs... except no one really seemed to be willing to grab anything at all. Then, in a magical 19 seconds, Carter reminded everyone why he's been the Kings' go-to scorer this year. The Kings coasted the rest of the way, en route to a 5-1 win at Staples.
The Carter goal was probably the only noteworthy event of the first two periods, to be honest. The Kings started off with 15 minutes of compelling shot-free hockey, before racking up three shots in the final five minutes. The second period also contained fifteen total minutes of time without a Kings shot on goal (the first five minutes and the final ten minutes), and Los Angeles was fortunate to have the lead after being dominated in shots and scoring chances (though they did attempt plenty of shots). The goal, Carter's 12th of the season, came after Craig Smith took a high-sticking penalty. Other noticeable facts about the opening 40 minutes: Jarret Stoll took a couple interference penalties in the offensive zone, the Predators weren't getting a ton of possession time but were getting more of the good looks at the net, and Jonathan Bernier kept up the good work. As is his style, no highlight-reel saves, but he couldn't have looked calmer (against the lowest-scoring team in the NHL, yes, I know).
So, the third. It's been a strong suit for the Kings, and has been for a few years. But after scoring 2 goals in nearly 170 minutes of game action against Nashville, the offense blew up for four goals in 6:15. Colin Fraser was dragged down in the offensive zone, but while spinning/falling he was able to deliver a cross-ice feed to a waiting Carter. As Pekka Rinne slid to Carter's side of the ice, the Kings' leading scorer swiftly moved the puck around Rinne and pushed the puck into the gaping net. The crowd was still releasing some of the tension built up over the rest of the game when Carter poked the puck away from Roman Josi and charged in on a breakaway. Carter switched to the backhand and succeeded in opening up Rinne's five-hole, and hats were hitting the ice before Carter's teammates could congratulate him on his fifth career three-goal game.
Martin Erat took a boarding penalty against Kyle Clifford as the desperate Predators attempted to work their way back into the game, and because things were going so well, Mike Richards scored on the ensuing power play. Slava Voynov (obtaining his third assist) passed to Dustin Penner, who set up Richards for a one-timer from the right circle. Three minutes after Carter's hat trick Richards had made it 4-0, and another three minutes passed before Dwight King knocked in his first goal of the season. Jarret Stoll was the provider, and King visibly exhaled in relief after scoring the Kings' fifth from the slot. Rinne was pulled immediately for Chris Mason. Meanwhile, Bernier was again superb, and it took a perfect shot from Gabriel Bourque (off the high post and in) to beat him and ruin the shutout. But he still picked up his fifth straight win, extending his career record against Nashville to 7-1.
They made it look difficult for a while, but LA found their scoring touch in the third despite only accumulating 16 total shots. Jeff Carter is now 2nd in the NHL in goals with 14. (He's also tied for 397th in assists, with 2. The bum.) A matchup with St. Louis awaits tomorrow as the Kings go for their seventh win in eight games. Can Carter and the boys keep it up?