When the Kings snagged two points from the Blues on Thursday night, we all assumed that the way they played that night would merely be a blip on the radar. Unfortunately, the Kings turned in another poor performance on Sunday afternoon.
The Kings really haven't played very well at any point so far this season. Yes, they beat up on the Jets and Oilers, two barely-NHL teams, but have struggled to control the flow of play aside from that. This is the 2013/14 Avs' formula for success, and it isn't one worth emulating.
The game started well enough, with the Kings picking up the opening goal in the 1st period. Tyler Toffoli potted just the second power play goal for the Kings this season on a broken play started by Mike Richards. Richards slid the puck to the top of the crease, where a Wild defender knocked it down. From there, Toffoli had plenty of time and net to work with, and made quick work of the situation to put the Kings on top. The goal was Toffoli's 3rd of the season and it was assisted by Mike Richards and Slava Voynov.
At that point, the shot total wasn't terribly lopsided. The Kings had gotten off to a slow start, but -- with the aid of the power play -- they were able to push the shot count close to even. From there, the Wild were able to take over the game. At the end of two periods, shots were 24-12 in favor of Minnesota.
Halfway through the 2nd period, Anze Kopitar got leveled by Minnesota defenseman Christian Folin. As Kopitar skated through the neutral zone, his back slightly to the play, Folin stepped in and hammered him. Kopitar crashed to the ice and his hip careened into the boards. Mike Richards sprung into action and defended his team's star center with a quick fight. Kopitar left the game briefly, although it appeared to be an equipment issue as opposed to a health issue. Richards received an instigating minor, a fighting major, and an automatic 10-minute misconduct assessed with the instigator. Feel however you want about this sequence of events, but it was of no consequence as the Kings' survived the ensuing power play.
What this Kings team has over previous editions is scoring depth, and their second line struck again to stretch the lead to 2 early in the 3rd period. After one of the rare Kings' cycles in the game, Jeff Carter started the play with a nice pass behind his back to Tyler Toffoli behind the net. Toffoli briefly surveyed things and found Tanner Pearson wide open in the slot. Again, the shooter had all kinds of time and space and Tanner Pearson made no mistake. It was his 5th goal of the young season, a total that ties him with Steven Stamkos. The other two components of That 70's Line collected assists on the play.
Desperation set in for the Wild from there. Minnesota racked up 17 shots in the 3rd period to give them 41 for the game. Finally, they were able to crack the brick wall that Jonathan Quick had built behind himself over the past few games. California-born forward Jason Zucker fed Matt Cooke in the slot, where he sat completely unmarked. Cooke took his time and lifted it to the top of the net to cut the Kings' lead in half.
The final 13 minutes were played much as the rest of the game, with the vast majority of the play occurring in the Kings' defensive zone.
At about the halfway-mark of the period, Mike Richards finally returned to play only to immediately take another minor penalty, this time for high-sticking. The Kings survived, but fellow whipping boy Robyn Regehr followed that kill up with a minor penalty of his own. With the game on the line, Jonathan Quick stood tall again, much as he has for most of the season to this point.
The Wild pulled the goalie with just over a minute left, and their best chance came with about 45 seconds left. Quick was there again, though, and was able to stop the puck after an elevated cross-ice pass was redirected on net out of mid-air. The Kings survived the rest of the game and skated off with a regulation win.
Are there concerns about the way things have gone in the early season? Most definitely. The Kings have conceded possession to great extents this season. That said, the season is young, and the Kings are missing key components. Even aside from it being just entirely too-small of a sample to judge, the Kings are feeling the effects that come with not having Jake Muzzin and Marian Gaborik. Still, other elite possession teams (like New Jersey and San Jose) are also struggling to control the Fenwicks at this point, and it's something that will course correct soon enough. The Kings will play better.
There are encouraging signs to be taken from their poor play though. Quick has been beyond stellar. He isn't going to be this great all season, but it's still nice to see him steal games for the team. Too often in the past two seasons, we've seen nearly the reverse, with the Kings dominating and Quick struggling.
And, as I mentioned, the Kings are showing off some nice scoring depth. Nearly the entirety of their offense to this point has been produced by secondary scoring. At some point, Kopitar, Brown and Williams are going to chip in. Richards will tack on some points. Marian Gaborik will come back. The defense will contribute. It's coming, and the Kings will be fine.