Tired of losing close games on the road, the Los Angeles Kings decided not to bother with keeping it close tonight. Instead, they handed the Minnesota Wild a 4-0 loss thanks to a stunningly efficient first period.
Four goals on ten shots pretty much put this one to bed. It was surprising enough to see LA, on the second night of a back-to-back, getting off to a terrific start. In the building of the best home team (7-1-0 before tonight)? The opening 20 minutes were shocking. The tone was set early on, as the Kings got three very good chances in the first five minutes. On the first, Darcy Kuemper had trouble with a high shot by Anze Kopitar, which eventually trickled wide with traffic in front. The second would have been a tough finish for Tanner Pearson, but he had an open net and almost whacked the puck in out of midair. The third chance went in, as Dwight King's shot was deflected by Mike Richards in front.
King had a lot of time to get his shot in the right direction, but that was nothing next to the amount of time the next three goalscorers had to line up their wristers. LA found themselves on an unusually large number of odd-man rushes and made them count, starting with Dustin Brown 13:13 into the first. Entering the zone with Williams, Brown never really looked like he was going to feed, but his quick shot still surprised Kuemper a bit and squirmed through five-hole. It probably would be fair to call it a bad goal, but again, 2-on-1s are never easy to deal with.
Oh, that was Brown's 200th career goal. He's the ninth player in franchise history to hit that mark, after Anze Kopitar did it in Game 81 last season Good going, Captain!
At the other end, the Wild did generate some good looks while the score was 1-0 and 2-0, but surprise starter Martin Jones was up to the challenge. After Brown scored, Jones faced four shots from relatively close range and turned them aside, and it looked like LA would be cruising into the intermission with a much-needed 2-0 lead. Then, before Minnesota knew what had hit them...
It was 4-0. (Thanks, Steph!) Hard to blame Kuemper for either goal, given the time and space, though it was pretty clear that Kuemper was still thinking about Brown's goal when Toffoli came bearing down on him. What a move, though. The goal by Williams was of the back-breaking, final-ten-seconds variety.
The crowd booed wildly (no pun intended) and Niklas Backstrom came in to replace Kuemper to start the second. Fresh off of nearly overcoming a four-goal deficit in Dallas, LA was well aware of the pitfalls of their advantage and wisely clamped down on D. Minnesota got just two even-strength shots in the first 16 minutes of the period, and their flurry of shots at the end of the frame reeked of desperation. Jones needed to pull one save out of the top drawer...
quick (adj.) pic.twitter.com/9Ef6Cyoi2f— LA Kings (@LAKings) November 27, 2014
... and was merely solid otherwise. The third period played out in a similar fashion, as the Kings missed a handful of additional odd-man rushes, Jones made the necessary stops, and Minnesota simply couldn't get things going. There was a noticeable trend tonight in defenders making smart plays, and guys like Trevor Lewis, Brayden McNabb, Jake Muzzin, and Robyn Regehr were among those who got called out positively on the broadcast.
Sutter said after the game that his choice to start Jones was based on getting him a win and getting Jonathan Quick some extra rest. I wouldn't recommend doing that regularly, but it certainly worked out, and having a fresh Quick going into a much-anticipated matchup with Chicago is definitely an advantage.