With the Los Angeles Kings in a pretty comfortable position in the Western Conference, the focus has been less on scrambling for a playoff spot, and more to ironing out some of the problems and the inconsistencies that have plagued the team this year. In that context, today was exactly what they needed. The Kings again made it look easy, defeating the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 at home on Saturday afternoon. This time, they got a solid performance from Jonathan Quick, and from top to bottom, the rest of the team held up their end of the bargain.
The Kings have found their groove early on in games lately, and once again, it took less than two minutes for Los Angeles to get on the board. Contrary to expectations, Jeff Carter was the provider, as he took possession along the boards and dished to Mike Richards. Richards took a one-timer, which beat Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk over the right shoulder. Six minutes later, the Kings just missed adding a second, as Justin Williams nearly capitalized on a deflection of Anze Kopitar's shot; unfortunately, his bid hit the post and bounced back out.
The Oilers are dangerous on special teams, and they nearly scored on their second power play to tie the game; Colin Fraser's desperate lunge prevented Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from tipping the puck into an empty net. So it was a pleasant surprise when the first power play goal of the game was scored by Los Angeles, the "weaker" team on man advantages.
The power play as a whole wasn't the prettiest, but the Kings worked their way into a strong position near the end of the two minutes. Dustin Brown held the puck in the corner, and Mike Richards and Jeff Carter simultaneously crashed the net as Brown threw it in front. Carter deflected the puck halfway up his stick and into the top corner to give LA a two-goal lead. Edmonton took advantage of their third power play, though, as the Oilers closed the gap in the second period. Kyle Clifford took a hooking penalty and Edmonton completed a good spell of pressure with Nail Yakupov tipping the puck past a lunging Quick. Magnus Paajarvi beat Scuderi to the crease behind Quick and tapped the puck in. It was the only time Quick would be beaten all night, and he looked as composed in net as he's looked all year.
The Kings currently have the second-best Fenwick Close of any team since 2007; essentially, this means that when it's a one-goal or a tied game, the Kings control possession. The Kings showed why after Paarjavi's goal, responding well to the adversity and putting Dubnyk to work. Just seconds after Doughty forced a nice glove save on a solo rush, Jarret Stoll won an offensive zone faceoff. The puck bounced back to Slava Voynov, and after a back-and-forth with Williams, he fired a long slapshot. Trevor Lewis in front provided enough of a distraction, and the slapper beat Dubnyk between the right skate and the post.
The rest of the period was a clinic by the Kings; they outshot Edmonton 16-1 over the final two-thirds of the period and continually held the puck in Edmonton's zone for long possessions. In my opinion, that is the biggest indicator of when the Kings are clicking and comfortable, and at that point things were looking good. The third line in particular deserves a ton of praise; Dwight King was superb all night, forechecking voraciously, while Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis had a few chances apiece and shut down the Oilers. From the Shot Differential link above, you can see just how dominant they were throughout.
Devan Dubnyk, on his way to a 35-save performance, was the only reason the Kings didn't extend their advantage even more in the final period. He made a good save on Slava Voynov's one-timer (after a beast of a forecheck by Dwight King), but he topped that with his glove save on Trevor Lewis a minute later. He completed the trifecta by robbing Voynov again, on what turned into a 3-on-1 for Los Angeles. Edmonton got their chance to claw back into the game when Drew Doughty took a hooking penalty, but the Oilers couldn't take advantage, and Mike Richards narrowly missed a shorthanded goal when he put the puck over the net from three feet out. The game wound down with Jonathan Quick holding off any efforts by the Oilers, and with less than a minute left, Drew Doughty scored an empty-netter from his own end while falling down. Highlight reel stuff, and the giggling Doughty will definitely take his second goal of the season.
The Kings got a lot of what they needed today; a solid and controlled performance from Jonathan Quick, some power play goals, a great performance from their bottom 6 and their blueline, and a low-stress third period before tonight's much-anticipated showdown in Anaheim. The Kings moved up to fourth in the West, and they'll keep battling the red-hot San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota Wild for the right to start the playoffs at home. If they continue to play this way, I like their chances.