It's been a weird start to the Kings' post-Olympic break season. That Colorado game was just weird (I mean, the Kings scored six goals, how does that even happen?!) and then in Calgary the Kings did to the Flames what every other team in the National Hockey League has been doing to the Kings for the better part of 3 seasons. Yes, they got woefully outplayed by Calgary, of all teams, and yet won in regulation anyway. Shrug.
You would be forgiven under these circumstances- a weird past couple games, the 3rd game in 4 days, and the Kings' near-legendary struggles in 1 pm Pacific time games- if you thought they might struggle in this one. But the Kings actually looked pretty good right out of the gate, playing with more energy than I was frankly expecting out of them. Not that Carolina really played particularly badly, either; really it was just a fun, kind of up-and-down-the-ice type of hockey game, with both teams having some rushes and quality chances.
But let's start out with some comedy. Not that I want to turn this into a "let's complain about the reffing" blog, but one call against the Kings was too funny to ignore. Just 2:10 into the first, Tyler Toffoli got called for tripping Carolina defenseman Andrej Sekera. There was nothing wrong with that call as Toffoli absolutely did trip him. Only problem? He tripped the Carolina defenseman as he was going down from being tripped first. Somehow the referee saw Toffoli tripping Sekera but missed Tyler getting tripped literally fractions of a second beforehand. So that was special. Tyler's comedic moments in the first didn't end there, however. At one point he was handed the puck by Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin, essentially granting him a wide open net to put the puck in.....only to shoot it well wide. That's So Kings™
Still in the first period, Dwight King somehow split his way through two defenders- yes, DWIGHT KING- and got in alone on a breakaway, but was bothered from behind and couldn't really get a shot away. Sadly, the world was inexplicably deprived of a Dwight King penalty shot, which would have likely caused Twitter to explode. Oh well. The Kings didn't score on the resulting power play, of course. In more Fun With Wacky Penalties, two hooking penalties were called a few minutes later on the same shift, one on each team! That 4-on-4 action lead to the Kings drawing another power play 50 seconds later, as Ron Hainsey went off for high sticking. That gave the Kings one of those deadly 4-on-3 advantages for over a minute, but say it with me kids: they failed to cash in. Again. Yep.
But have no fear, Mike Richards is here! Richards was all over the ice throughout the game, and got rewarded for his quality play very late in the first period. He fired a bad-angle shot from almost in the corner with under a minute to go, and the puck luckily deflected off of Hainsey's stick and right past Khudobin to give the Kings a 1-0 lead! Yeah! Unfortunately, that lead would only last for 41 seconds, as Robyn Regehr (who assisted on Richards' goal, continuing his totally inexplicable offensive hot streak) had the puck deflect off his glove and right past Quick after Sekera fired it from the blue line. Sigh. Still, it was a good first period for the Kings- Nick had the chances as 6-2 LA overall (3-2 at evens)- and being tied after a first you largely controlled is better than losing after the same, I guess.
The second period opened up with a great rush from the Mike Richards line right off of puck drop. It lead to Tanner Pearson- who had a fantastic game, maybe his best as a King- trying to fire a drop pass back to Mike Richards in front of the net, but unfortunately it couldn't quite connect. It did lead to another power play that featured some grade-A chances for Anze Kopitar & Jeff Carter, both directly in front of the net, but somehow both fired it wide (That's So Kings™). A few more power plays followed for each team, but neither seemed particularly dangerous on it. In fact, you could argue that both looked more dangerous killing off their penalties than actually on their own power plays. Oh well.
So uh, back to the game. Hey, remember that Alec Martinez guy? He was back in the lineup for the second straight game! And he made an amazing diving play in the neutral zone to knock a pass away that almost surely would have lead to a Jeff Skinner (who I almost just called "Springer") for a breakaway! Yay Alec! (Also, remember his name for later.)
The second period didn't go quite as well as the first- chances were 5-5 overall, and 3-1 at evens for Carolina- but still, it was not bad hockey out of the Kings or anything.
The third opened up with another great early chance for the Kings. This time around it was a brilliant cross-ice feed from Willie Mitchell, of all people, to a waiting Anze Kopitar at the side of the net, but Anze.....hit the post (That's So Kings™). Oops. So how do we follow up a Dwight King breakaway and a Willie Mitchell brilliant cross-ice feed? How about with a pretty backhand pass from Kyle f'n Clifford to spring his linemates Linden Vey & Trevor Lewis out of the zone, directly leading to them drawing another penalty? The resulting power play was the Kings' sixth of the game, and I guess three is a factor of six so it makes sense that the sixth try would be the charm, kinda. But first, Jarret Stoll had to get stopped on an all alone opportunity, because- say it with me- That's So Kings™. Thankfully, Alec Martinez, hero to millions, was here to pick up the slack, getting a feed from Dustin Brown (continuing his own nice little bounce-back run since returning from the Olympics) right in the slot and firing home a slap shot to give the Kings a 2-1 lead!
The Hurricanes had some chances in the third- Nick had the period scored as 4-3 Carolina overall and 3-1 at evens (making the three period total as 14-10 LA overall, but 8-6 Carolina at evens, assuming my basic addition hasn't failed me)- but ultimately could never beat Jonathan Quick (24 saves on 25 shots in his second straight strong game since the Olympics) for the equalizer. The Kings would even score an empty-netter, which is NOT So Kings, as Kopitar fed Justin Williams with just over a minute left in the game to seal it up and bring it on home, as the Kings celebrated their third straight win since the end of the break and fourth straight overall. The possession numbers were good, if not quite up to their usual high standard (59% of all shot attempts and 57.3% of unblocked attempts overall, 53.6% of all attempts and 53.1% of unblocked attempts at 5v5), but it was still a nice bounce-back following that putrid showing in Calgary.
Overall, it was a fun afternoon of hockey and a Kings victory to boot, giving one little to complain about. The Kings are back at it Monday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens, another Eastern team but one with, uh, a little bit more history with us. The Habs will surely be looking to avenge the 6-0 beatdown that the Kings put on them in their rink way back on December 10th. Or maybe they've forgotten all about it, who knows. Guess we'll just have to see.