Coming off a game they deserved to lose against Vancouver at home on Saturday, the Los Angeles Kings notched a well-deserved win tonight against the New Jersey Devils to kick off an important five-game road trip. Alec Martinez was solid in his first game back from concussion-like symptoms, while Mike Richards was ... Mike Richards, in his own return to Kings action after his 24-game banishment to Manchester.
Mike Richards is back and icing the puck WE MISSED YOU— Jewels frm the Crown (@JFTC_Kings) March 23, 2015
The returns of Richards and Martinez had Kings fans hoping the resulting lineup shuffle wouldn't leave Brayden McNabb—whose game is quickly developing and who has been one of the Kings' best blue-liners of late—as the odd man out. Unfortunately, it did. Coach Daryl Sutter deployed Martinez in his familiar defensive pairing alongside Matt Greene, and reunited Drew Doughty with Jake Muzzin on the top pairing. That left Andrej Sekera stuck with Robyn Regehr to complete the defensive deployments. Doughty should buy Sekera a nice watch or something for taking that burden from him (#regehred). Meanwhile, Sutter inserted Richards into the third line with Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis, pushing Nick Shore to fourth-line center duties and scratching NHL goal-scorer Andy Andreoff. Of note, the shuffle gave Justin Williams a chance to play on the first line with the big boys.
The returnees didn't play a huge role in the game, but new face Sekera did, scoring his first goal as a member of the Kings. His powerful slapshot at the midway point in the first period found its way through traffic, over goaltender Cory Schneider's left shoulder, and into the top corner. The Sekera goal was set up by strong cycling play by a five-man Kings attack. Skating away from the goal on the left side in his now-signature fashion, Anze Kopitar carried the puck past Regehr cycling in towards the goal and drawing the defense in, clearing the way for a cycling Sekera at the blue line. Sekera received the puck, skated in, and slammed it home.
The Kings dominated possession in the first period, leading 25-8 in Corsi For and 16-3 in shots on goal. Constantly occupying the Devils' zone (often with a five-man attack) paid off near the end of the period when Devils penalties to Stephen Gionta and Dainius Zubrus gave the Kings a golden 5-on-3 opportunity. The Kings didn't disappoint, as Marian Gaborik threaded a pass through the crease, bypassing Schneider and the triangle of Devils defenders to the left side, where Tyler Toffoli cradled the puck and then deposited it over the stick of a sprawling Schneider and into the net.
We can all agree that was a great recovery by Toffoli from his recent brief foray into villainy.
The Devils made a bit of a surge in the second period, and were rewarded with a goal two minutes in. The Kings were in good defensive position, but a flick from Eric Gelinas ricocheted off Sekera in front and right to the stick of a waiting Scott Gomez. Regehr couldn't cover Gomez, who had no trouble sending the puck past Quick to cut the Devlis' deficit in half. (#regehred? #regehred.)
The Gomez goal caused L.A. fans to fear another swift late-lead surrender that has become commonplace for the Kings, but Jonathan Quick erased a few sporadic Devils opportunities and the period closed without further damage.
Though the possession stats were skewed by the end-of-game surge put on by the trailing Devils, the Kings regained firm command of the game in the third period. Five minutes into the period, in somewhat of a replay of the earlier Gomez goal, Muzzin's shot from the blue line caromed sideways off Schneider's blocker, where it met the stick of a grateful Kopitar and was guided easily into the net. Following the Kopitar goal, the Kings put a stranglehold on the game, getting sustained pressure and good rush chances from every line and retaining defensive structure.
The Kings' power play continued its excellence in the waning minutes of the third period. After Shore drew a holding penalty against Gelinas, the Kings kept the puck in the Devils' zone for the entirety of the two-minute power play. Though the 5-on-4 didn't produce a goal, it showcased some pinpoint passing and gave Drew Doughty three successive opportunities to work on his one-timer, which he has reportedly been, uh, working on. None of them hit net, but the power play was a positive for Drew and for L.A.
New Jersey pulled Schneider at the two-minute mark, but competent goaltending by Quick intermingled with some hilarious new installments of the hit comedy The Kings Versus an Empty Net brought the game to a close without further ado. The Kings won a game they deserved to win and, frankly, needed to win. Now the real tests will come, as the Kings continue their road trip at the Rangers tomorrow and at the Islanders on Thursday. On to New York.
For at least one night, it looks like the LA Kings won the Richards and Martinez for McNabb trade.— PumperNicholl (@PumperNicholl) March 24, 2015