I'll be honest. I looked at this game on the schedule with dread. Say the Kings roar into the playoffs and take out the West. I still wondered if the Capitals were beatable - if they had a formula that would dismantle the Kings' strengths. After last night's game, I can confidently say that is not the case, despite the result. However, if the Kings are in another rut where they can't convert goals, it perhaps won't matter, just like last night.
To begin the game, the Kings showed a new defensive lineup that reunited the top pair of Jake Muzzin and Drew Doughty, followed by the not brand new grouping of Alec Martinez and Luke Schenn. This left youngster Brayden McNabb with rookie Kevin Gravel. The top pair really shows up in the box score as well. Drew Doughty logged 31:29 in a game that didnt' go to overtime. Muzzin was relied on for 28:43. The pair totaled 6:18 together on the penalty kill, and they were both around the four minute mark on the power play.
What did this new lineup mean for the other defensemen? Alec Martinez logged his near-normal 20 minutes of ice time, and Schenn trailed him slightly with 17 minutes. They were also stapled together in their short-handed time. This left Brayden McNabb with just twelve minutes of ice time. He normally logs well over 20 minutes being Drew Doughty's partner, and he got the ice time of someone in Sutter's dog house. Kevin Gravel had a somewhat normal 10:25 in his sample size.
Here's the bad news about this defensive lineup. Despite their low ice time, Brayden McNabb was still a -2 on the night. He and Gravel were both on for the Capitals' go-ahead goal. While the goal can be more attributed to Gravel's inexperience, it may show an issue pairing young players that don't have Sutter's trust. Yet, they did say they wanted to try him out, and this new defensive lineup certainly flexed the D-corps in a way we haven't really seen this season. It will be interesting to see if it sticks.
With all of that in mind, let's get to the results! The opening period was actually a very good one for the Kings. While they took three penalties, they allowed no goals against the best powerplay in the NHL featuring one Alex Ovechkin. During even play, the Capitals registered only a single scoring chance. During the Capitals' last power play, an excellent defensive play by Drew Doughty turned things the other way and led to this sequence.
Eight denies 8 pic.twitter.com/k1s6T3i4yj— LA Kings (@LAKings) February 17, 2016
Kopitar in the Capital pic.twitter.com/zXAgzcSzJt— LA Kings (@LAKings) February 17, 2016
Woah. I can't remember the last time Anze Kopitar had a shorthanded shot, much less two or a goal. A player that loves to dump and change had just opened the game up for the Kings. They took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. What followed was an excellent period of hockey by the Kings. Just look at the chart below to see how the Kings took off in the second.
The Kings amassed 19 shots on goal on 35 shot attempts in the second. They also racked up 12 scoring chances. They made the Capitals look downright confused. They entered the zone with huge gaps on their wings and pinned the Capitals in the offensive zone pretty much at will. The bad news? The Kings scored zero goals this period.
As the chart shows, the Capitals had a late push, and the Kings had the young defensive pair out with Vincent Lecavalier's line. We love to bemoan the defensive acumen of the veteran, so please mentally insert that here. A lost board battle got the puck out to Dmitry Orlov who simply waited for Andre Burakovsky to break toward the net for a perfect net front pass. The teams entered the second intermission tied, but after the Kings showed strong in the second, it felt like the third was completely in reach.
The third period turned out to be the Capitals' best. They generated some of their best chances of the night right up until Justin Williams and Evgeny Kuznetsov put the Capitals ahead. Jonathan Quick took a soft blow to the head which slowed him in his attempt to cross the crease and defend the threat coming around the back of the net. Kevin Gravel abandoned his man in front of the net and failed to tie up Williams behind the net. Kuznetsov got the pass cleanly and had an easy tap-in.
The Kings certainly pushed with their remaining two minutes, but they were never felt truly threatening. They failed to hold the zone with the extra man and lost the puck to their own zone twice. The second time was the dagger with an open net goal. It was a disappointing result after a lot of Kings had a really good night.
Jeff Carter did not have a good night. The usual speedster never got in on goal on his own, and as a result, generated no scoring chances. His line got shelled by the top line featuring Ovechkin, and it's easy to point out Carter's line as one that could have made the difference. When your best two scorers can't show up on the scoresheet, you had better have scoring depth. With Marian Gaborik injured, that depth was certainly lacking on what is traditionally a shallow team when it comes to scoring.
After the game, there was much discussion on social media as to why the Kings lost. Some of it was frustration. Most of it was about the Kings failing to execute, generate real scoring chances, and things like that. The truth of it is that the Kings generated a lot of chances from the slot. They had a lot of almost-passes that could have resulted in goals. Things like this happen, and the Kings are certainly no stranger to games playing out like this.
The Kings' special teams certainly deserve accolades in this one. Though the Kings gave the Capitals five power plays, they only totaled five shots. When Ovechkin gets 7:31 of power play time and doesn't score, that's a good night. The Kings matched the Capitals' shot total, but shorthanded. One of those five shots was Anze Kopitar's own rebound, which he handily placed in the top corner of the net.
This game had a lot of good signs for the Kings. It's important to remember that the Kings are an elite possession team that is good at generating chances. Sometimes scoring happens in burst. You know what happens when you get crushing possession mixed with scoring ability? You get the 2007-2008 Detroit Red Wings. Of course, the Kings don't have the scoring skill that team had, but if they get on an upswing in shooting percentage, they are a nightmare to handle. Chances are we'll see at least one more upswing sometime soon.