In the first game of the 2014-15 season, the Los Angeles Kings got demolished, at home, at the hands of the San Jose Sharks. The difference tonight? These are not the same Los Angeles Kings. LA played a nearly flawless game after the Sharks' early goal, coasting to a 3-1 win over their rivals.
Right now, LA is playing their best possession hockey of the year. It was pretty much a given that they would turn THAT around. Less certain was whether they'd solve their power play woes, and having done that as well, the Kings are mighty dangerous. (Take out one hellish period against St. Louis and two hellish minutes against Calgary, and LA is on a run of five terrific games.) The first period of this one backed that up; LA really only faltered on two occasions. One was a bad turnover by Justin Williams, and Jonathan Quick ended up picking the puck out of his net after Joe Pavelski's shot squirmed through. The other was a bad turnover by Jake Muzzin, and Quick made the ensuing stop.
Meanwhile, the Kings were busy at the other end. After slowly working their way back into the game, they applied a steady diet of pressure on Antti Niemi on the offensive end. The game-tying goal came from LA's most effective even-strength line: Tanner Pearson, Trevor Lewis, and Tyler Toffoli. I was pretty vocal about not liking this line when Darryl Sutter put them together, but they've been playing quite well, and they put together a good shift before Toffoli broke his goalless streak. After Toffoli blasted a shot wide, Jamie McBain picked up the puck and noticed a whole lot of Sharks...
... ignoring Toffoli. (That's his stick in the bottom left corner.) McBain's pass was spot-on, and Toffoli had time to convert for his first goal since December 2. Having pulled even, the Kings maintained their edge on the shot sheet for the rest of the game, and allowed almost nothing to San Jose in the game's final 30 minutes. With the game winding down, Jamie Baker would proclaim on NBCSN that "the difference in this game is those two power play goals." While he was technically, mathematically, correct... the shot attempts at even strength said otherwise.
That's ten shot attempts in the final thirty minutes for the trailing team. Of course, since the Kings didn't score again at even strength, they needed those two power play goals. The same five skaters were out for both, and you know the names: Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, and Jake Muzzin. In fact, they were out for the first power play of the game (at the 23-minute mark, shown above), but Kopitar took a high stick from Joe Pavelski and had to leave the ice. This apparently ruined the magic on that man advantage, but thankfully, it didn't ruin Kopitar's face... or the team's special teams success.
Gaborik was the biggest difference-maker on the first power play goal, which was at the game's halfway point, but Doughty's pass and Carter's entry also played a role. Carter's feed to Gaborik was deflected, but Gaborik grabbed the tricky bounce with no difficulty, steered the puck inside, and bounced a shot off the far pad of Niemi. Kopitar was waiting for the rebound; 2-1. Kopitar also picked up the assist on the second power play goal, earning him yet another multi-point game. He retrieved a rebound in the corner, Drew Doughty passed across to Jake Muzzin, Niemi couldn't go smoothly from side to side, and Muzzin slapped it in.
San Jose never threatened after that, and LA even got a chance to exorcise their Calgary demons. They held a 3-1 lead with two minutes to go and an empty net at the other end. This time, Johnny Gaudreau was busy terrorizing Edmonton, so the Kings held on. On Monday, LA has a real chance to forget about the Calgary rally, as they take on the Flames one more time.