The question often comes up during dry spells: why don't the Los Angeles Kings score more "pretty" goals? LA simply doesn't do the whole free-flowing, open-ice thing too often, preferring to control zone time and win the possession game. Tonight, though, they showed off a little bit, using three really nice goals to win their fifth straight.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, until very recently the best team in the Eastern Conference, has now been beaten by LA twice in two weeks. LA only really needed 20 prolific minutes to start and a timely third period goal last time, but the blueprint had to be different in this one. That's because, in spite of some strong early shifts, a bit of defensive zone lackadaisicality (nice word, Eric) put the Kings behind in the first.
Tampa Bay sparkplug Tyler Johnson had set this up with a controlled zone entry, a drive around Matt Greene, and a shot on goal. Tyler Toffoli looks for all the world like he should be getting to that puck first, but he was already coasting backwards. Dwight King got there at about the same time as Nikita Nesterov, and Greene got to Jonathan Quick's intended spot at about the same time as... Jonathan Quick. Quick got knocked down, Nesterov's second shot attempt found the net, and the battle was on. Blame everyone.
It took a few minutes for LA to right the ship, and for a couple of stretches in the next fifteen minutes, another Lightning goal looked more likely than a Kings equalizer. Anze Kopitar and the boys righted the ship, though, right about when I was wondering whether Kopitar would show any spark in this one. Did he ever; a nice set of passes from Jamie McBain, Brayden McNabb, and Trevor Lewis sprung Kopitar down the middle, and he fired a quick wrist shot stick side. LA carried the play (including an actually-decent power play!) for the rest of the frame, but a stone-cold too many men penalty with fourteen seconds left in the second set up an immediate challenge.
The penalty kill was superb, though, and soon after getting back on even terms, Jordan Nolan (!) scored a beauty of a goal to put LA ahead.
Lots of little things went right on this play. Drew Doughty, who played another thirty minutes tonight, shut down Steven Stamkos in a dangerous one-on-one situation. Dwight King made an ideal drop pass -- after the Kings had gotten too fancy on a few of those drop passes earlier in the evening -- and took Nesterov out of the play in front. (Eventful night for Nesterov, who got that first career goal but also took two penalties, delivered an unpunished elbow to Toffoli's face, and got stuck watching this goal.) And Nolan showed patience and a backhand that surprised everyone other than himself.
Another really intelligent counterattack helped seal the deal. Carter and King had nearly scored on a 2-on-1 on Andrei Vasilevskiy a couple minutes earlier, and Doughty stepped in on this one after King made a difficult behind-the-back tap to get the puck moving out of the zone. Doughty and King entered the zone, taking the defense with them, and Doughty found the trailing Carter for an open shot. Carter didn't miss, making it 3-1 with six minutes left. Just as integral, though, was the response; LA bottled up Tampa for the next five minutes, and though a failed clear by Doughty meant more extra attacker heartburn, the Kings held on for a 3-2 win.
The Kings always had this type of streak in them. During December and January, though, they were always undermined by... something. Bad goaltending, poor shooting, special teams troubles, defensive mistakes, tentative third periods, so on. The Kings have been able to string together five straight W's: by avoiding all that. Easy, right?
This wrapped up a perfect homestand, and the Kings now face a pair of games against direct playoff competition: Colorado on Wednesday, and San Jose at Levi's on Saturday.