The Los Angeles Kings played their sixth game in nine days last night and were coming off a loss to the Coyotes the night before. The San Jose Sharks were also coming off a back to back, but had a long point streak, bolstered by good home performances, to preserve. Fortunately for the Kings, the game began and end on a high, and they just had to work through the valley.
It's fair to say that the Kings roared out of the gate in this one. By the time they reached their first powerplay at 12 minutes in, they had already racked up 19 shot attempts and 7 scoring chances. The Sharks didn't even register an even play scoring chance until the 2nd period, in fact. However, it was one of those games where you felt like the Kings really should have scored at least one goal during their run of good play, because things turned around in the second.
The Kings were just coming off of their 2nd powerplay when a bad change and series of turnovers allowed Joe Thornton to seize the moment on his penalty box exit. With the help of Tomas Hertl, they setup Joe Pavelski who gave the Sharks the first lead of the game. The Kings would slowly lose grip of the game over the rest of the period, and it was their ability to kill two more penalties from a deadly man-advantage team that kept them alive going into the third.
The Kings continued to be flat in the third and simply could not enter the zone with possession. The Sharks failed to maintain long zone possessions, but the game had devolved into a series of failed zone exits and neutral zone breakups for the Kings. Their fortunes finally changed when Mike Brown appeared to target Drew Doughty's head on a check and was called for roughing.
The ensuing powerplay from the foul featured some fine puck movement and sustained zone time. Eventually Anze Kopitar put it back to Jake Muzzin on the blueline, who then fed to Doughty before he skated in and blasted it by Martin Jones. It was something we've seen quite a bit from Doughty this year, but the cathartic embrace from Kopitar and Doughty in the aftermath made it feel like the Kings were back in it mentally.
Of course, this game wouldn't be fun if it were always easy, and the Kings gave the Sharks a goal advantage yet again in the third. A below the goal line feed to Logan Couture put the Kings right back where they started the period, and their inability to push play at even strength looked to jeopardize their ability to climb back in the game.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing of the Kings' loss to the Coyotes was their inability to get out of their own zone in the final two minutes thanks to a tenacious Arizona forecheck. That was not the case this time, as they found themselves in the Sharks zone with just two minutes left, yet the goalie stayed in. The Kings then struggled to breakout until the one minute mark and we all reflexively prepared to complain about Darryl Sutter's goalie pulling strategy at the end of games.
Jhonas Enroth finally made his way to the bench with a minute left, and the Kings set to work in the offensive zone. Despite sustained pressure, the window appeared to be closing on the Kings until a goalmouth feed from the captain gave veteran Vincent Lecavalier multiples whacks at the puck in the crease. The veteran scored once again for the Kings, and we had a tie game with 12 seconds left. The Kings even regained the zone before time expired and got another shot attempt off, and things looked way up headed to OT.
What followed the third period was probably one of the most cautious overtime periods the Kings have ever played in. Both sides were careful with the puck and neither side really managed to generate breakaways. The Sharks certainly had the better of the chances though, until the right mixture of tired players finally allowed the Kings to seize the moment. A long stretch pass from Tyler Toffoli sprung Marian Gaborik and we were pointedly reminded how beautiful a shot the man still possesses.
It was a nice moment for the struggling Gaborik, and I was reminded of his triumph in overtime against the Blackhawks last year. Marian Gaborik certainly loves playing the hero role, and we hope it's a recurring one for a good time to come. The Kings will get Milan Lucic back from his one game suspension on Wednesday, but Kopitar's line had no trouble being the best yet again since Toffoli joined its ranks.