The Los Angeles Kings played another matinee game today, facing off against the slumping Florida Panthers. They were looking to rebound after a frustrating loss to the Blue Jackets in which they held them to no shots in the second period only to be pelted in the third, and couldn't muster enough push to knot the game. This game seemed headed down a similar path before the Kings completely took the game over.
The Kings controlled play early in this game. After ceding the first two shots to the Panthers in the opening minutes, they held them to no shots until late in the period. Unfortunately, one of those shots was a well placed Nick Bjugstad attempt that found a corner of the net, putting the Panthers up one goal to none. Even after allowing the goal, it was tough to be down on the Kings as they outshot the Panthers 10 to 5 and largely controlled play throughout the period. Anze Kopitar also took a holding the stick penalty against Willie Mitchell late in the period, expressing the sadness in letting Mitchell go that we were all feeling. Kopitar also further pushed his penalty minute total above his assist total. Why aren't we tracking that yet, again?
Fortunately, what then followed was probably the best period of Kings hockey yet this season. The Kings continued to maintain zone time early in the second and did a good job clogging the neutral zone to prevent the Panthers from establishing anything. Fortunately for them, Luongo looked sharp and was able to stifle some solid Kings chances.
Things took an interesting turn later in the period when Jeff Carter was whistled for goaltender interference on a rather soft call as he drove the net hunting for a rebound. Florida's own defenseman ending up taking Luongo down without a push, which made Kings' coach Sutter rather animated on the bench. To compound things, Drew Doughty attempted to lift the puck into the Panthers' zone during the kill, and instead sent it straight over the glass. What followed was an extremely good 5 on 3 kill that only allowed two shots total across all the penalty time and no real quality chances. Jeff Carter even treated us to a nice short handed rush after he left the box.
The penalty kill seemed to signal a turning point in the game, a game which LA was already controlling mind you. The Kings began generating even more chances and hemming Florida in their own zone. The Kings finally tied it when Tyler Toffoli was allowed to wander between the dots with time and space. He zipped it to Carter on the left side who saw a wide open net and quickly put it home. Kings rookie Derek Forbort also registered his first NHL point with the secondary assist! Seemed like just yesterday we drafted him, right?
After tying the game, the Kings showed no signs of relenting as they continued to heavily drive play. All four lines were generating chances, and Kyle Clifford managed to draw a hooking call just minutes later. The Kings only needed 13 seconds on the power play, as Doughty blasted a one timer that squeaked through Luongo's five-hole. The goal gave Doughty his first on the season, and the Kings took the lead.
Just one minute later, the first line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Tanner Pearson were again in Florida's zone and heavily pressuring the Panthers. Kopitar managed to put a shot on net and used his strength to get his stick on a puck resting near the post patiently waiting to be tapped in.
The Kings entered the second intermission up three goals to one after what followed what was most likely their best period of the entire season. Don't believe me? Just take a look at these two tweets from our writer Sheng.
After two, the Kings have 18 High-danger scoring chances. The Panthers have ZERO @war_on_ice— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 7, 2015
LAK / FLA 5v5 scoring chances pic.twitter.com/TkeWX69cE9— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 7, 2015
The shot total was 30 to 9 after the Kings pelted Luongo with 20 in the second period and held the Panthers to four shots in the period. The Panthers certainly didn't go away though, and they started the third period strong. They were skating quickly to pucks to keep it in the zone, and they also managed to generate some traffic around the net. They failed to string several dangerous chances in a row, and that probably helped the Kings keep them off the scoreboard again.
As the third period wore on, the Panthers' luster began to fade and they began relenting possession and chances back to the Kings. Jeff Carter continued his impressive points run by finding Milan Lucic skating low in front of the net, and a simple redirect allowed Lucic to tally his third goal on the year and extend the Kings' lead to three goals. The Panthers did not go away, but the pressure after that point never felt exceptionally dangerous.
This game was quite a thorough thrashing by the Kings, and the lead allowed Sutter to ease back on Doughty's ice time and experiment with line combos in the third. At one point, we even got to see Nick Shore playing on Kopitar's wing! Also, if you were wondering why Clifford and Nolan seemed to have chances late in the game, it was because Shore was centering them while Andreoff centered the third line.
The game also allowed all Kings to contribute, and Gaborik seemed to benefit from the lower quality defense he saw while playing on the third and fourthish lines. Trevor Lewis had several scoring chances, including a play where he managed to slip the puck under the sprawled Luongo's right pad. Unfortunately for Trevor, Luongo slid his left pad closed on a puck that was riding the goal line after redirecting off the post. Kopitar also had a strong game, generating many chances of his own. It wouldn't be surprising to see that line combo again, though Brown did see some time with Pearson and Kopitar as well.
Kopitar and Lewis each have 5 individually generated scoring chances. Kopitar had 9 in the 13 games prior to today. #LAKings— Jason Lewis (@SirJDL) November 7, 2015
Perhaps the biggest question of the game was the scratching of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff for the rookie Derek Forbort. Ehrhoff skated with the injured Greene in practice yesterday, which many took to mean he may not play. Sutter demurred on the idea, and simply pointed to Ehrhoff's play as of late. He also compared him to Tanner Pearson, who was a game time decision for St. Louis. Pearson turned his fate around with a goal and an assist that game. We may have an idea of what happened last game to convince Sutter to bench Ehrhoff, but it would be a shame to see Ehrhoff out of the lineup going forward. He's excelled greatly in third pairing minutes and has been able to control play from a possession and scoring chance standpoint.
With the win, the Kings take over sole possession of first place in the Pacific division, and they looked at top form with their control of play. They have three more home games coming up, so let's hope they can carry today's success forward.