My main observation after having watched the #Perds play an entire game for the first time this season: holy crap do they forecheck now. I'm sure we all remember what Kings-Preds tended to mean over the last 3+ seasons: really, incredibly boring hockey where absolutely nothing happened. This usually was because neither team forechecked much, with both teams content to take away the neutral zone and hope they were the ones rewarded with the lucky bounce of the night. Well, as you may have heard these Ain't Your Daddy's Perds! That's right, the Nashville Predators have discovered that you're legally allowed to send more than one person into the offensive zone at a time without puck possession! Congratulations guys! Only took you, what, 14 years?
Anyway. The forecheck. It's quite good. They regularly sent two forecheckers in on loose pucks and Kings defensemen, and there were several times throughout the game when it severely hampered the Kings' breakout.
This isn't to say the Kings played badly in this game, per say. If you break down their puck possession by period, it was a pretty even game throughout. Overall shot attempts went like this: 18-16 Nashville in the 1st, 16-15 Los Angeles in the 2nd, 13-12 Los Angeles in the 3rd (obviously that would put it exactly even, 45-45, through sixty minutes). In terms of just even strength play, the shot attempts looked similar: 18-14 Nashville in the 1st, 16-9 Los Angeles in the 2nd, 9-6 Nashville in the 3rd, resulting again in the two teams being even after sixty minutes, 36-36. Yes, the Kings played by far their best hockey in the 2nd, despite what may have happened in the span of 52 seconds late in the frame. We'll get to that in a second.
The game's first goal would come 6:24 into the 1st, when Colin Wilson caught the Kings napping in the neutral zone and sprung Craig Smith on a breakaway. He converted for his fifth goal of the season. The Predators sort of took over the game following that goal, with most of the play taking place in the Kings' end, but a successful breakout lead to a shot by Justin Williams that was tipped right in the blue paint by Jamie McBain (of all people) to tie the game about five minutes later.
The second period started off with a bang, as Jeff Carter flipped the puck all the way up the ice- over the head of basically the entire Predators lineup- and found a streaking Marian Gaborik, who scored on a breakaway of his own (even with Ryan Ellis seemingly hooking him from behind) to give the Kings a 2-1 lead. As mentioned earlier, the Kings controlled much of the play for the 2nd period, especially at even strength, until suddenly things went very wrong. 17:36 into the period, the Predators had the puck in deep below the goal line, and for some reason all five Kings were in down low in the resulting chaos. That of course left the points wide open, and Colin Wilson found Ryan Ellis streaking down for a one-timer that beat Martin Jones to tie the game.
Just 52 seconds later, the Predators would strike again. This time it was something called a Taylor Beck who, completely ignoring Matt Greene as if he wasn't even there (Greene couldn't get a stick on the puck even while it was briefly loose and overall just didn't play him well at all), spun and fired a shot all in one motion that was then tipped in by Eric Nystrom right in the crease. So the Kings found themselves trailing at the end of yet another 2nd period on the road, despite the fact that they had played a pretty good period overall. That sucked.
What sucked less was how the 3rd period started: Drew Doughty went end-to-end from behind his own net, totally evading an attempt to poke check it away in his own zone, then went in basically 1-on-3 against the Predators in THEIR zone before firing a hard wrister that beat Pekka Rinne to tie up the game.
Neither team seemed to have too many high-quality chances for the rest of the 3rd; the Kings had a power play where they looked reasonably competent, but there were never really any "WHOA HOW DID THAT NOT GO IN???" moments. Nashville then had a couple of minutes after killing off the penalty to Shea Weber (that, honestly, appeared to be "2 minutes for hitting while being tall", but whatever I guess) where they looked like they were going to score again at basically any moment. Thankfully James Neal put a stop to that by high sticking Dustin Brown (I know, a penalty against Brown that actually happened, I think, what the hell!) right off a face-off. On the resulting power play the Kings had the puck in Nashville's end for a good long while, thanks in large part to one of the penalty killers breaking his stick, but were still unable to find the go-ahead goal. To overtime we went, with at least a point in the bag.
In overtime, Filip Forsberg ended up with a partial breakaway (after 3 of the 4 Kings on the ice basically took a simultaneous nap) but hit the post behind Jones. A few minutes later James Neal hit another post after Jones got a huge piece of his shot but couldn't control it; thankfully it hit the post behind him and basically fluttered along the goal line. Robyn Regehr immediately high sticked Neal to give the Predators a 4-on-3 power play for the last 92 seconds of overtime, but after a tense minute or so spent in the LA zone the Kings were able to clear it out and then repeatedly deny the Predators clean entry for basically the rest of the frame.
The shootout was up next, always a cause for joy and jubilation (if you're kind of stupid; okay I'm sorry shootout fans you're not kind of stupid! you're rea-uh nevermind). Martin Jones, if you had forgotten, had gone a perfect 12-for-12 in the shootout last year, stopping every shooter he faced (most memorably on a night in Anaheim). Jones was great again here, stopping the first five Predators he faced, but none of the five Kings could score on Rinne, either. Neal mercifully finally put us all out of our misery by finally getting one past Jones, and then DWIGHT KING (???) couldn't find the equalizer. One point was all we would get tonight. And much like you must feel reading this recap, I was just kind of happy it was over.
Tomorrow night the Kings are in Minnesota, home of the suddenly-gods-of-Corsi Wild, to play on night 2 of a back-to-back. I'm sure that will go very well for them. The Search for Road Win Number Two will continue.