The Los Angeles Kings played really well tonight, but through 55 minutes, they were no closer to a win than when they started. So what did the Kings do when they were at a stalemate? They put out their first line and went to work. The result was a game-winning goal for Anze Kopitar and a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.
Early on, this one looked like it could be a carbon copy of the first game of this road trip. Against the New Jersey Devils LA blitzed the Islanders with an early barrage of shots, finally breaking through ten minutes in. The breakthrough didn't come tonight, though the top two lines tried their hardest. An early cycle by Dwight King, Tyler Toffoli, and Jeff Carter kicked things off, and the team followed suit until shots were 10-2. Jaroslav Halak, however, was terrific in goal, stopping everything aside from a Jordan Nolan deflection off the post. After all the excellent work done on cycling by the top six, it stood to reason that Nick Shore (!) would be the player to finally beat Jaroslav Halak. It came at a most unexpected time, though; more on that later.
Before any of that, though, the Kings went to the break well up on scoring chances...
... but scoreless. There were no signs of letting up early in the second, but a bad press by Tyler Toffoli set up a 3-on-1 the other way, and Frans Nielsen went top corner on Jonathan Quick. It's your classic "well, it was a great shot and an odd-man rush, but Quick saw it all the way, so I guess it's everyone's fault" kind of goal. You know the one, right?
Five minutes later, Shore happened, just as everyone was sure LA wasn't beating Halak. Before that, a great defensive play by Johnny Boychuk dethroned a Justin Williams breakaway. Boychuk's play was undermined by consecutive penalties to Nick Leddy (for a trip on Williams) and Travis Hamonic (for an obvious high-stick on Dustin Brown), setting up a 5-on-3 for a minute and 34 seconds. It wasn't really a bad 5-on-3 - LA had two shots on goal and another two blocked - but Halak wasn't giving up rebounds, and the Kings weren't forcing them. So both players get out of the box, the Nassau crowd is going wild... and Dustin Brown dangles around the net and throws the puck to the front, where it deflected in off Shore's skate.
(If you'd like to change that italicized portion to "where Shore deflected it in with his skate," I will not argue. I think he knew what he was doing.)
A few big hits in the second ramped up the intensity leading into the final period. After John Tavares took Doughty's stick with a nifty (if illegal) maneuver, Doughty took out his frustrations on Cal Clutterbuck, leading to an interference penalty. Soon after, Matt Martin hit Williams from behind right in the numbers, angering the normally diplomatic Bob Miller and Jim Fox.
From there, the third period got off to a lightning-quick start. Matt Greene's holding penalty 1:43 set up a power play in which each team scored once. Remember that early streak in which Tyler Toffoli scored approximately all of the shorthanded goals? He hadn't found the back of the net on the PK since, but he and Jeff Carter have become Darryl Sutter's go-to forwards at the start of penalty kills and have regularly gotten chances down a man. Tonight, Toffoli flipped the puck past John Tavares to set up a 2-on-1; shot by Carter, rebound to Toffoli. The score was only 2-1 until Johnny Boychuk's long shot beat Quick, but it kept LA right on level terms down the stretch.
And, unsurprisingly, LA was fine with that. Other than some second period shakiness, LA was consistently the better team at evens, and it paid off on one magical shift in the third. With Kopitar, Williams, and Marian Gaborik on the ice and Drew Doughty and Robyn Regehr at the back the cycle began. And they kept going... and kept going... and kept going, through multiple blocked shots and multiple failed clearances by the Isles' D. LA had time to swap Alec Martinez and Andrej Sekera in as the shift continued, with no break for the exhausted Islanders. Jim Fox always says that shifts like those will end in a goal or a penalty, and in this instance, it ended in a goal.
The pass by Sekera and the deft deflection by Kopitar served as a knockout blow. Even the customary empty-net sequence felt a bit less tense than usual, and LA walked out with a richly deserved two points.