Thursday night marked the return of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to the lineup in the place of young Derek Forbort. Earlier in the night, the Vancouver Canucks had failed to lose their 357th game in overtime this season, so the Los Angeles Kings were once again in position to take over sole ownership of the division's number one spot.
Goaltender Jhonas Enroth made his third start for the Kings, and his first start that was not part of a back-to-back sequence. The New York Islanders got the game off to a high pace, establishing zone time on a recurring basis. The Kings were slow to wake and did not come alive until the seven or eight minute mark.
The Islanders scored first, at just over halfway into the period. After keeping in an attempted loft zone clear, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo went to work in the corner where Nick Shore battled for the puck. Shore appeared to attempt a backhand pass from the boards to a teammate, which instead went to Brock Nelson. Nelson easily beat Enroth glove side and the Islanders took the first lead of the game.
Shortly after the goal, the Kings were able to draw their second penalty of the game when Calvin de Haan laid a needless cross-check on Tyler Toffoli as he was attempting to dump the puck and change. The Kings had some decent movement on their first power play but this one was less successful as they couldn't establish a good cycle. Calvin would help them out and take another penalty just minutes later with a trip on Tanner Pearson.
The third penalty proved to be the charm for the Kings. Anze Kopitar won the faceoff and got it to Christian Ehrhoff on the left point. He passed cross ice to Drew Doughty who skated in to line up his shot. Doughty blasted a slap shot that Jaroslav Halak was unable to track thanks to the screen of big-bodied Milan Lucic. The goal sparked the Kings, who poured on the pressure the remainder of the period until a penalty just inside the two minute mark.
The penalty call was definitely the most bizarre moment of the night, as an incredulous Jamie McBain skated to the box for interference. The officials corrected themselves and instead sent Ehrhoff to the box. However, on the replay, we see that Ehrhoff was motionless and had his back turned to Nikolay Kumelin, who simply tried to skate through him. Still, the Kings were able to kill the man advantage and go into the first intermission tied, despite being outshot 13 to 8.
The second period turned out to have a very different complexion thanks to an early goal by Milan Lucic. It was one of those fluky and lucky goals that the Kings rarely seem to get. Tyler Toffoli put a shot on Halak's pad and Milan Lucic got inside position on Islander defender Johnny Boychuk. In a sequence that went from Halak's stick, to Lucic's stick, and finally to Boychuk's skate, the puck fluttered over the right pad of Halak and the Kings had their first lead.
The Kings took over from that point and established long periods of zone time, which saw all four lines contribute. The Islanders did have periods of zone time of their own, but the Kings were simply more frequent and consistent. There were no penalties called in the period, and the Kings claimed the shot advantage 10 to 7 for the period, though the attempt margin grew much more.
The third period started on equal footing early before a sequence of penalties put the Kings in trouble. Brayden McNabb was engaged in a board battle and may have not had full control of his stick as it tripped Mikhail Grabovski up. Approximately a minute later, Doughty hooked Grabovski to give the Islanders a 5 on 3 man advantage. Fortunately, the Kings were solid on the kill, denying shot attempts up close and locking up bodies and sticks on rebounds. The three minute span of advantages fizzled and the Kings retained the lead.
The Islanders were not deterred by the failure of their power play and immediately began owning the majority of the zone time and were testing the Kings' defense as they attempted to take the lead. The Kings shelled up and did not generate many attempts all period, and they essentially generated no chances all period. Their one goal advantage proved to be enough though, as even pulling the goalie did not tip the scales for the Islanders. The Kings never got a shot on the open net, but were able to clear and provide enough trouble in the neutral zone to prevent anything particularly dangerous.
The 2-1 win is what we've come to expect of this Kings team in recent years. The defense was solid and gave up almost no odd man rushes in their own zone. Despite the goal, Jhonas Enroth was solid and able to lock down most of the rebounds in his crease. The line of Shore (who had four shots), Dustin Brown and Trevor Lewis was particularly effective even against the Tavares line, and they generated many chances themselves.
The Kings also continued an interesting defensive strategy in which partners can change late in games, and we saw Jake Muzzin and Doughty exclusively together the final few minutes. Muzzin was not far behind Doughty in overall ice time either, and they finished at 25:42 and 24:44. In all, solid defense and a little luck proved to be the difference for the Kings who became the first Pacific team to eclipse the 20 point mark on the season.