For much of the past four games, the Kings have simply suffocated their opponents. They've never been outshot in any period during these four games. They outshot the Vancouver Canucks 15 to 1 in the third period before overtime. Chicago was outshot 11 to 5 in the third. The Kings ran up the shot counter 20 to 4 before Pittsburgh came alive. Last night, the Kings outshot the Tampa Bay Lightning despite leading almost the entire game and took home a 3-1 win.
As a result, the Los Angeles Kings' 0-3 start seems like a distant memory. This four-win homestand perches them seven points ahead for the division lead and fifth overall in the NHL.
Ok, it's impressive to outshoot your opponents on a consistent basis, but if you're always trailing and not generating true chances, it's a rather empty victory. That was not the case with the Kings, as they were never outchanced in their four home wins. The Kings have also done well in closing the door on some of their opponents best offensive powers. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Steven Stamkos have been held to a collective -47 Corsi over these four games (because I can make up stats to add together). To put it simply, the Kings have made it look easy.
The Kings' control over their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning manifested itself in a different way on Sunday: special teams. Despite taking six penalties ( a continuing concern), the Kings did not allow the Lightning any significant foothold on the power play. At times, the Kings spent extended periods in the opposing zone just pinning or passing the puck there, if not outright attempting on goal. These stats also included over a minute of 5v3 for Tampa Bay.
Solid from the Kangz... conceding only 8 shot attempts (4 on goal) during 8.5 minutes of PK time was impressive, too pic.twitter.com/S6A43wtcSt— Andrew Leafman (@andrewleafman) December 7, 2015
The Kings managed to get three power plays this game, and that was enough for them to outattempt Tampa Bay nine to eight. They recorded one less shot, but were even in scoring chances on the man advantage despite not having their own 5v3 (though the Lightning did generate two high scoring chances to LA's none). In short, the Lightning have not been good on special teams this year and the Kings helped them demonstrate it.
The Kings earned three power plays of their own, and it was all thanks to one man: Anze Kopitar. Kopitar has been extremely strong on the puck these past several games, and he's made some other players look downright comical trying to leverage against, hold, or hook him. In fact, Kopitar has drawn four penalties in the Kings' past four games at home. He was also rewarded for his efforts by earning his 400th career assist after winning a faceoff and losing his stick. Maybe he'll get to see number 401!
Kopitar's 400th career assist pic.twitter.com/VSmyBjCtCy— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 7, 2015
We'd also be remiss without mentioning the play of Milan Lucic. He's finally been emerging as the player Los Angeles hoped he would be- a strong power forward who simply outmuscles everyone to the puck. He's had plenty of opportunities to display his straight line speed on rushes and his empty net goal as well. He has three goals in the past four games, and they've all been well earned.
Accolades also belong to Jonathan Quick. While he was not sharp for every game, the game against the Lightning was arguably his best. Early on, the Lightning were retaining zone time with speed in the offensive zone, which forced Quick to be very active. There were multiple rebound situations which required tantalizing toe saves, including the one below.
Overall, it was an incredibly impressive homestand, and the Kings have forced themselves into the conversation for the league's best teams. They played close games against Vancouver and Chicago, but never looked lost or desperate. They were long periods where Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Chicago had to shell up and simply hope to weather the storm, much less generate any offense.
The Kings also accomplished these feats without Trevor Lewis in the lineup the last two games, whose spot has been filled by Jordan Weal. While his play has been shaky at times, exemplified by his rushed skating into the back of Jamie McBain on a zone exit attempt, there have been bright spots such as his use of board positioning to win the puck from Brian Boyle, who nearly bests him by a foot in height.
The Kings have a lot of road games coming up, and they are staring their reputation for poor Decembers and Januaries in the face. They also have a lot of not great opponents coming up, which gives them a serious chance at opening up a considerable division lead. The Kings have also been fortunate enough to be mostly healthy, although it's hard not to look forward to the return of Dwight King to the third line, which should force one of LA's two worst players out of the lineup.