Did you hear a loud, extended exhale, originating largely from the west coast? That was probably a collective of Kings fans, exhaling after things didn’t go from bad to worse tonight.
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The fourth line of Andy Andreoff, Kyle Clifford, and Jordan Nolan was rewarded for their tenacity against the Rangers last night by getting the start against the Devils. The move paid off, because on their first shift, Nolan drew a hooking penalty, sending Kyle Quincey to the box and the Kings to the power play.
Getting out to an early lead was always going to be key against the Devils, who even at their lowest are traditionally a defensively stingy team. Trying to play catch-up against them wouldn’t have been a thrilling prospect, especially considering the Kings’ scoring woes this season. Corey Schneider’s having a bit of a rough year -- his .910 Sv% is the lowest in his career since the handful of games he played in his NHL debut -- but he’s still more than capable of stealing a game.
So the Kings getting the first goal -- from Anze Kopitar, on a power play and less than a minute into the game -- was a pretty big moment.
Also big? Tanner Pearson doing some fancy footwork to shovel home a rolling puck, less than a minute later. Pearson’s goal was his fifteenth of the season, tying last year’s goals total (and career high) in 33 less games.
The Kings got into some penalty trouble midway through the first, including giving the Devils 1:44 of a 5-on-3. But the penalty kill was masterful tonight, only letting three shots get through to Peter Budaj, and wasting a good deal of time in the Devils’ zone besides that.
And what’s better than two goals and a strong penalty kill? How about a third goal, one of those dirty ones where bodies are just piled up in front of the net. And who better to chip that one in than Alec Martinez, putting in a rebound from the pile-up?
Those three goals were enough to chase Schneider; Keith Kinkaid took over at the start of the second period, and while he was perfect in relief (stopping 12 shots over two periods), his team wasn’t able to help him out with enough goals to make the difference.
Of course, a little luck (and a probably intentional net-shove) helped the Kings out in the second. Jordan Nolan swept a puck away from the goal line, and then dislodged the net before the Devils could shoot the puck.
The official call was that the net was dislodged before the puck crossed the goal line, and video review showed that P.A. Parenteau didn’t have his stick on the puck to shoot until after the net was already off. The extra “help” from Nolan resulted in a delay of game penalty, which the Kings easily killed off.
The Devils finally got on the board midway through the third period, on a shot from Kyle Quincey that may have bounced off a few players before going in. Their late surge didn’t get any further than that, with the Kings playing a tight, clean, defensively responsible game until the buzzer sounded.
A simple, no-frills win against the Devils was a step in the right direction after the disappointment of the past four games. Peter Budaj had a strong game, and the defensive lapses up and down the lineup that have plagued the Kings recently were absent. They looked like a team who just wanted to play one shift at a time and grind out a win -- don’t get too high or too low, just play your game, right? -- and that’s what they did.
The Kings head to Raleigh next, looking to keep the momentum going from this win as they take on the Hurricanes on Thursday, their last game before the All Star break.