Going into Monday night's game, the Los Angeles Kings were riding an NHL-high seven game win streak. That streak had allowed them to perch themselves atop the standings in the Pacific division. However, the Chicago Blackhawks are a team that the Kings have had a lot of trouble with in the regular season, particularly on the road, as they tried to snap a three game losing streak in the United Center. Yet, the Kings were matching up against a Blackhawks team that looked very different from last year. What resulted was another fairly even game that could have gone either way.
There was certainly an element of uncertainty to last night's game given Chicago had so many new faces in their starting lineup. Part of that was thanks to trading away Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp. Another part was the injury to Duncan Keith. With some inconsistent results early on in the season, one might have hoped that Chicago's inexperience could be exploited with a disciplined team like the Kings. Things did not start positively, however, as a shot that ricocheted off the end boards was quickly turned up the ice by Chicago into a two on one. Kings rookie Derek Forbort found himself the only back with Ryan Garbutt and Jonathan Toews coming into the zone. Forbort failed to adequately defend the pass and Toews easily scored on Jonathan Quick. This set the tone for Forbort's game, and he only saw eight minutes of ice time total.
Fortunately, things would turn around for the Kings as they tallied two goals before the opening period came to a close. The first goal come off of a fluttering shot from Alec Martinez that may or may not have hit a Chicago defender before going into the net. I've been told that this is similar to another goal Martinez scored, but this is his first goal this year. I'm having trouble thinking of it, so let me know about it in the comments.
The second goal came with just over a minute left in the period. Jake Muzzin fired a shot on goal after the puck rimmed around the boards to him. Anze Kopitar had just cycled behind the net and skated in front to find a juicy rebound laying at his feet. He held the puck for a split second while picking his shot before beating Crawford with the go ahead goal. This ties him for second in goals on the team with 4 (Carter), but he has still failed to register a single assist. This is somewhat of a troubling development as Kopitar usually relies on his wingers to convert his plays into goals.
Overall, the Kings played a solid 1st period and led shots 10 to 6 going into the first intermission. The second period had a similar tempo to the first, albeit with fewer overall shots - the Kings tallied six to Chicago's 8. The Kings also recorded their only non-garbage penalty as Brayden McNabb hooked Garbutt in front of the King's net in a scrum for the puck. The second penalty was when Marcus Kruger took Anze Kopitar down to the ice in another scrum and Kopitar was apparently penalized for allowing Kruger to do so. Hopefully he learned his lesson.
The Kings and Blackhawks entered the third period with the same 2-1 score, but the bad news started early for the Kings. Patrick Kane skated freely through center ice and entered the zone with space. Alec Martinez was slow to close the gap and this allowed time for Kane to pick his shot, which ended up going through Martinez's legs and providing a screen against Jonathan Quick. It doesn't seem as if the screen mattered that much, as the release was exceptionally quick and the puck perfectly placed in the top right corner. Tie game.
The rest of the third period did not go the Kings' way. General carelessness exiting the zone allowed for too many keep-ins and too many chances against. The Blackhawks finally capitalized on this when Kane was able to keep the puck in the zone and skate behind the net. One quick, no-look, backhand past below the goal line allowed Teuvo Teravainen to easily beat Quick and put the Hawks ahead. The final dagger would come on a Kings power play no less, as Artem Anisimov was able to tuck the puck around the outstretched leg of Quick.
This is not to say that the third period was all bad - far from it. Once the game was equalized and the Kings went down, they began pouring shots on net as you would expect, and still showed themselves to be a healthy team. In fact their 19 shots was more than the first two periods combined, and easily one of the highest totals of any period for the Kings this year. They drew two penalties as well, with the penalty in the closing minutes going in favor of the Hawks and resulting in the Kings' first shorthanded goal allowed.
Played well enough to win, but not that well: LAK 52-51 Corsi...CHI 27-24 scoring chances, 11-8 high-danger— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 3, 2015
Overall, it was fairly even effort by both teams, but the blunders in the defensive zone turned out to be the Kings undoing. The Kings did a good job activating defensemen in plays without allowing a lot of odd man rushes. The fourth line found some periods of success and established zone time. If you had to single out some things Chicago did well, it was their play against the top two Kings' lines. The Jeff Carter centered second line only had five shots total and weren't generating chances like they had been in previous games.The red hot Tyler Toffoli failed to generate any chances. For Kopitar's line, he was usually doubled-teamed while attempting to cycle the puck, effectively ending most offensive zone time. Still, the Kings played well enough to be hopeful about their next game, even if it is a day later and against a tough Blues team. Seven out of eight isn't bad.